Monday, May 10, 2021

"LE NOZZE DI FIGARO" - Pocket Opera

The cast of "Le Nozze di Figaro"
 Colin Milner (Count) - Brendan Palazzi (Antonio) - Karyn Tisdell (Marcellina)
Andrew Barrow (Basilio) - Erica Tolano (La Contessa) - Lily Ward (Barbarina)
 Michaella Edelstein (Cherubino) Katrina Wiseman (Susanna) - Tristan Entwistle (Figaro)

Directed for National Opera by Peter Colman- Wright.

Wesley Centre Canberra – 2nd May 2021

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

“Le Nozze di Figaro” (The Marriage of Figaro), is the first in a series conceived by Artistic Director Peter Coleman-Wright, as part of his mission for Canberra’s National Opera to become and inclusive, community-driven company providing a safe and vibrant platform for Australian singers, directors and conductors to hone their craft and gain much needed performance experience.

Essentially stripped-down versions of well-known operas, the pocket operas contain the essence of the story and all the favourite musical moments but without many of the trappings and requirements of a full production. Participating singers are allotted roles and expected to have them learnt by the beginning of rehearsals.

Directed by Coleman-Wright himself, this inaugural production, which saw the original opera reduced from around three hours to just on one, was sung in the original Italian by a cast of nine.

Among them, Tristan Entwistle (Figaro) is already a member of chorus of Opera Australia. Katrina Wiseman (Susanna) is a graduate of the ANU School of Music, and has studied in Italy, Brisbane and Sydney and participated in several young artist programs. Michaela Edelstein (Cherubino) is a graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and has sung in Munich and Verona and with Pacific Opera.

Performers familiar to local opera lovers through their performances in leading roles in previous opera productions in Canberra, Colin Milner (Il Counte) and Erika Tolano (La Contessa) both have overseas opera experience , while Karyn Tisdell (Marcellina) has considerable experience both in Opera and Musical Theatre productions in the Canberra region.

Both Andrew Barrow (Basilio) and Lily Ward (Barbarino) are studying at the Australian National University, while Brendan Palazzi (Antonio) is studying singing with a private teacher.

Stylishly accompanied on piano by Ella Luhtasaari, and performing to a supportive audience on a simple setting of screens, table and chair with only the most necessary of props, all gave spirited performances.

Coleman-Wright’s direction was light allowing the singers to concentrate on the vocal demands of their roles, rather than character development.

The opera was given just two performances on the same day, and the performances were videoed so the singers will be able to review their own performances which not unexpectedly, varied from very good to looking a bit lost and forgetting to maintain character once they stopped singing.

However as training exercises these Pocket Operas are going to be invaluable. Singers will have opportunity to build their repertoires and performance skills, while their audiences will be able to see operas they may not previously been able to experience, and make their own assessments as to the progress of favourite singers towards, hopefully, glittering operatic careers. 

The next Pocket Opera is “ Die Zauberflote” (The Magic Flute) which will be given two performances in Albert Hall on 27th June. Watch out for it.

RAINBOW SERPENT - Canberra International Music Festival - Concert 21.

Tammy Gissell - "Mundaguddah"

National Gallery of Australia - James O Fairfax Theatre

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

The penultimate concert in the 2021 Canberra International Music Festival was devoted to the cultural significance of the Rainbow Serpent among indigenous peoples and the inspiration provided by the myths surrounding the Rainbow Serpent for contemporary composers.

Prolific indigenous songwriter, Joe Geia is admired for his ability to express universal themes through his beguiling fusion of reggae, rock and funk with indigenous language and English to create songs with wide cultural appeal. 

Joe Geia and the ANU Jazz Collective

For this concert he was joined by the ANU Jazz Collective and offered three songs from his repertoire. Relaxed and comfortable Geia chatted briefly with his audience before performing his  alternate version of the National Anthem, which raised more than a few wry smiles.  He followed with a gentle love song, “Window Pain”, then after acknowledging his accompanying musicians, finished with a catchy composition entitled “Wanumungu”.

Andrew Blanch - Vladimir Gorbach - "Rain falls and After"

Guitarists Andrew Blanch and Vladimir Gorbach then took the stage to present the world premiere of a specially commissioned composition by Christopher Sainsbury entitled “Rain falls and after”.  Based on a quote from a poem by Melbourne poet, Isobel Robin, the gentle ebb and flow between the two guitars captured perfectly the ambiance suggested by the words, “Rain falls and after...a sudden air of mushrooms...and small things moving”.

Brian Howard composed “The Rainbow Serpent” in 1982 for a performance choreographed by Barry Moreland and danced by acclaimed Australian ballet dancer Kelvin Coe. It received only one performance, until reimagined for this year’s festival by indigenous dancer Tammi Gissell under the title “Mundaguddah – Spirit of the Rainbow Serpent”. 

Tammi Gissell performing "Mundaguddah"

Gissell is an arresting dancer with a strong presence and stunning technique. It was impossible to tear your eyes away from her as she slithered menacingly around the stage, inspired by Howard’s complex, atmospheric writing, brilliantly realised by a superb seven-piece ensemble conducted by Roland Peelman.

It was a shame however that Gissell’s performance could not have been presented in a theatrical setting as the presence of the musicians behind her considerably lessened the impact of her performance.

The eclectic  program completed with “Ngarukuruwala”, a performance by the Tiwi Strong Women, seven women who sing and dance ancient traditional songs accompanied by a male Tiwi musician, and performing in front of a projected image of a painting by Maggie Timapaetua.

Tiwi Strong Women performing "Ngarukuruwala"

Barefooted, (although two of their number wore socks, perhaps in deference the nippy Canberra weather), outfitted in colourful skirts, and tactfully wrangled by Genevieve Campbell from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, the seven women charmed their audience with their complete lack of artifice.

Often ignoring Campbell’s attempts at consensus, the group argued unselfconsciously among themselves, in language, as to what item they would perform next and who would lead. Once decided, they performed, completely rapt in their songs and stomping dances, occasionally disagreeing as to which action went with which words, and seemingly oblivious as to the response of their audiences.

Though fascinating, even moving, to experience this privileged glimpse into the songs and rituals of an authentic ancient community, it was difficult to escape the nagging feeling that by presenting these artists and their traditions in environments so unsympathetic and alien to their intended purposes, even with the best of intentions, perhaps these people were  being exploited to provide entertainment and novelty for a privileged few.  


                                                  Images by Peter Hislop

This review also appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW




Canberra International Music Festival

Fitters’ Workshop, May 8


Reviewed by Len Power


At the start of Concert 18, ‘Heartland’, we were invited to join William Barton and Véronique Serret on a walk with them through a timeless and vast landscape – the Heartland.  What a journey it was!

Mixing western music with ancient sounds of the land, the duo created a rich soundscape that was colourful, passionate, uplifting and intensely moving.

Performer and composer, William Barton, has won many awards for his musical works over the past two decades and is widely recognized as one of Australia’s leading didgeridoo players.  Playing the guitar as well as the didgeridoo and vocalising, he commanded the stage with his skill and talent.


Véronique Serret and William Barton

Véronique Serret has played with the Australian Chamber Orchestra for many years and was recently appointed Concertmaster of the Darwin Symphony Orchestra.  In this concert, she played violins and vocalised as well.

This combination of western and ancient instruments sounded as if they were always meant to be played together.  In addition, the use of modern day electronics to amplify and loop sounds added another dimension to the sound produced.  Both performers were fine singers and their sustained notes were clear and hauntingly beautiful.

The result was a fabulous combination of instruments and voice, of ancient sounds and classical and modern western music building a totally unique experience filled with emotion and a sense of land, time and space.

Sensitive poetic readings by the duo, interspersed through the music, explained the journey we were undertaking.  Describing the commonality of all walking together, the cleansing flow of sacred waters and fire, earth and rebirth, the wildlife and the stars, a strong picture was built up of the mother country – the Heartland.  “We are all as one”, intoned Véronique Serret as the all-embracing music wove its spell around us.

The standing ovation at the end of the concert was thoroughly deserved.  This was an extraordinary journey through music and sound and a powerful experience.


Photo by Peter Hislop


This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of the 9 May 2021.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.



Canberra International Music Festival

Fitters’ Workshop 7 May


Reviewed by Len Power


The waltz of 18th century Vienna and the “nuevo tango” of Argentina seem at first glance to be worlds apart.  The waltz was popular in Europe but social unrest in the 19th century resulted in emigration to the Americas.  With a melting pot of musical influences, imported and local, new musical genres arose.

By the end of the 19th century, the tango was gaining in popularity in Argentina.  In the early 20th century, Astor Piazzolla, who earned his living playing in tango clubs, introduced classical and jazz elements, creating a new repertoire known as “nuevo tango”.

This concert, “Waltz to Tango”, celebrated Piazzolla’s “nuevo tango” 100th Birthday with waltzes by Franz Schubert, a new dreamlike work by Andrew Schultz, “She Dances By The River”, Elena Kats-Chernin’s “ The Three Dancers” and three works by Astor Piazzolla.

Performed by Veronique Serret, violin; James Wannan, viola; Blair Harris, cello; Rohan Dasika, double bass; Adam Jeffrey, percussion; James Nightingale, saxophone; James Crabb, accordion; Sonya Lifschitz, piano and Ronan Apcar, piano, the concert commenced with six waltzes composed by Schubert in the years following the 1815 Vienna congress that reorganized Europe after the Napoleonic Wars.  Pianist, Ronan Apcar, played them with grace and sensitivity.


The new work by Andrew Schultz, “She Dances By The River”, followed.  This brooding, dream-like piano quartet celebrated people with courage to overcome obstacles and achieve goals.  Finishing with a sense of optimism and renewed determination, it was played with great skill and warmth.

Elena Kats-Chernin’s “The Three Dancers” is a work inspired by Picasso’s painting of the same name which depicts a triangle of characters drawn together through love, sex and death.  This was given a highly spirited performance that was a delight from start to finish.

The concert finished with three works by Piazzolla.  “Let’s Go To The Devil” was played with infectious glee by the performers.  It was followed by the dream-like “Oblivion” and “Death Of the Angel” was a rousing finale to the concert, full of pulsing rhythms, passion and colour.  It was obvious that the performers enjoyed playing it together.

This was a hugely enjoyable concert with well-chosen works and skilful playing by all involved.


Photos by Peter Hislop


This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of the 8  May 2021.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.




Animal Farm

Adapted from George Orwell's novella by Nick Skubij

Directed by Michael Futcher

shake & stir production

Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse to 8 May


Reviewed by Len Power 6 May 2021


George Orwell’s novella, “Animal Farm” may be 77 years old now, but its message is still relevant today and maybe more so.  Just think of Donald Trump’s “fake news”, the North Korea of Kim Jong Un, the frightening persuasiveness of our social media and so on.  If you feel uncomfortable watching it, it’s because the events portrayed are not so far from our current world.  Shake & Stir’s theatre production is bold and breathtaking, capturing the spirit of the story in theatrical terms extremely well.

A group of farm animals rebel against their human farmer, hoping to create a society where the animals can be equal, free and happy. Ultimately, however, the rebellion is betrayed, and the farm ends up in a state as bad as it was before, under the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon.

The decision to present the animals with minimal props and costume pieces for identification means the actors must convince us with their performances.  Slipping in and out of characterisations to be narrators as well as animals is a gamble that might not have worked, but it actually adds to our willingness to accept the characters and incidents played out before us.

Actors in "Animal Farm"

The actors are totally convincing as the animals.  The ensemble playing of Darcy Brown, Tim Dashwood, Nelle Lee, Gideon Mzembe and Steven Rooke is truly remarkable.  It’s hard to believe there are only five performers playing a multitude of different animals with such in-depth characterisations.  It’s a very physical, fast-moving production requiring timing, energy and stamina. They must be exhausted by the end.

Josh McIntosh has designed an attractive, towering set with all the elements of a typical old farm against which the chilling events play out.  The complex lighting design by Jason Glenwright adds to the atmosphere as does the extraordinary sound design by Guy Webster.

Director, Michael Futcher, has made all the right decisions with this outstanding production.  It’s terrific theatre – visceral, thought-provoking, visually startling and entertaining – and it’s not to be missed.


This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of the 7 May 2021.

 Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.