Monday, August 29, 2016


Merlyn Quaife, soprano
Nicholas Dinopoulos, bass-baritone
Andrea Katz, piano
Wesley Music Centre, Forrest 28 August

Review by Len Power

Art Song Canberra’s ‘Lyric Rhapsody’ concert presented three highly regarded artists in a concert showcasing the music of Johannes Brahms and Antonin Dvorak with a tribute to William Shakespeare thrown in as well.  It was a nicely judged program of music that worked very well.  The singers, Merlyn Quaife and Nicholas Dinopoulos, were in fine voice and the accompaniment on piano by Andrea Katz was superb throughout.

The first half of the program comprised ten songs by Brahms.  In solos and duets, the two singers had every opportunity to display all aspects of their fine voices.  Merlyn Quaife’s beautiful soprano voice and moving delivery of the ‘Lullaby’ was one of the highlights of this set of songs.  Not only was it sung technically very well but, through her body language and eye contact with audience members, the singer drew us deeply into the emotion of the song.

Nicholas Dinopoulos has a thrillingly powerful voice when singing dramatically but is equally impressive with the quiet, reflective passages of a song.  He demonstrated this ability particularly while singing ‘Sapphic Ode’.

The finale of the Brahms works was a duet, ‘The Path To Love’, which was not only sung very well but you could see how much the two singers enjoy working together.  Andrea Katz’s piano accompaniment for this song was especially memorable.

The second half opened with three songs from Shakespeare’s plays.  All were finely sung but the duet, ‘It Was A Lover And His Lass’ from ‘As You Like It’ was the highlight, again displaying the great chemistry between the singers.

The last section of the program was a set of Moravian Folk Songs by Dvorak.  All five were sung as duets.  The highlight was ‘Scheiden Ohne Leiden’ (Separation Without Suffering) in which both singers displayed tender, heartfelt emotions as the song came to its sad conclusion.

This was yet another excellent program from Art Song Canberra with fine singing and piano playing.  I’m looking forward to their next program on the 9th of October when Jeremy Tatchell, baritone, and Elena Nikulina, piano, will present ‘From Russia (and New Zealand) With Love’.

Len Power’s reviews can also be heard on Artsound Fm 92.7’s ‘Artcetera’ program on Saturdays from 9am.

Sunday, August 28, 2016


Australian Dance Party
Nishi Playhouse – New Acton
August 25th to 27th 2016
Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Liz Lea, Gabriel Comerford, Alison Plevey, Janine Proost

Photo: Lorna Sim

This collaboration between four dancers and six musicians from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, entitled, “Strings Attached”, was the inaugural presentation of a new Canberra-based professional contemporary dance company called, Australian Dance Party. 

The brain-child of choreographer and performer, Alison Plevey, Australian Dance Party aims to challenge audiences to actively think, question ideals and debate current issues through creative collaborations and adventurous performance projects by engaging a diversity of Canberra performers, thinkers and experts moving across site-specific and theatrical venues.

To this end, the choice of a pop-up theatre in the Nishi Building in the New Acton precinct was an imaginative one. Signs directing audience members to the venue provided a sense of discovery, and once inside, the sophisticated atmosphere created by Victoria Lees string sculptures, the comfortable chairs and tables arranged cabaret style, at either end of the performance space, the large harp and other musician’s paraphernalia arranged along either side, all heightened the anticipation.

With the stated objective of exploring the connection between dance and music, “Strings Attached” consisted of seven short works, presented without interruption or costume changes, as a sort of taste-treat of possibilities.

The program commenced with the room being suddenly darkened.  The sound of breathing, lightly at first, then building in intensity as the lights slowly came up to reveal the four dancers and six musicians taking the stage. They formed a circle, and replaced the breathing with rhythmic slapping and clapping sounds.

Alison Plevey - Meriel Owen (background)

Photo: Lorna Sim

As the musicians moved towards their instruments, Alison Plevey challenged the harpist, Meriel Owen, to improvise to her movements. One by one the other dancers challenged other musicians similarly, often intruding on the previous dancer. Eventually the musicians combined and launched into a languorous arrangement of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s “Ritornelle et chantee” to which each of the dancers in turn, Alison Plevey, Janine Proost, Gabriel Comerford and Liz Lea, improvised a dance in response, allowing each to showcase their particular strengths.

Gabriel Comerford - Alex Voorhoeve (background)

Photo: Lorna Sim

Similarly , each of the musicians, Meriel Owen (harp and piano), Tim Wickham (Acoustic and electric violin), Stephen Fitzgerald (percussion), Miroslav Bukovsky (Trumpet), Dave Flynn (double bass, guitar and bass guitar) and Alex Voorhoeve (acoustic and electric cello) has opportunity to shine in excellent  arrangements by composers as eclectic as James Hannigan, Zoltan Kodaly, Mariano Mores, Cy Coleman, Jimi Hendrix, Jean-Baptiste Lully and even three of the participating musicians, Alex Voorhoeve, Gavin Findlay and Tim Wickham. The musical arrangements by Dave Flynn, Mike Dooley, and Miroslav Bukovsky, provided opportunity for the musicians to display their multi-instrumental skills.

Alison Plevey

Photo: Lorna Sim

Most of the dances relied heavily on the improvisational skills of the various participants, which led to some repetition, but among the more memorable moments were the fiercely athletic solo performed by Gabriel Comerford to a militaristic Soviet style march, the erotic, bare-foot tango danced by Comerford and Proost, the energetic, unison “Frug” danced by Plevey, Lea and Proost and the orgiastic, hair-tossing finale involving all four dancers.
“Strings Attached” proved a promising and tantalising entrée for the Australian Dance Party. The challenge now is to develop a cohesive choreographic style and personality to build on the interest and goodwill achieved with this inaugural program.  

This review is also published in Australian Arts Review.


Conducted by Leonard Weiss
Holy Covenant Anglican Church, Cook 27 August
Gunning Shire Hall, Gunning NSW 28 August

Review by Len Power 27 August

Having performed Hubert Parry’s ‘English Suite’ earlier this year, it was good to see that Musica Da Camera had scheduled another work by Parry in their latest concert.  ‘Lady Radnor’s Suite’ was commissioned by Helen, Countess of Radnor, and, surprisingly, she also conducted the first performance of it in 1894.  Patterned on the early classical orchestral suite of dance movements, the work is melodic and is strongly and delightfully reminiscent of Victorian England.  The orchestra played it very well especially the third ‘Sarabande’ movement and the rollicking finale.

This was followed by a nice performance of Handel’s twelfth Concerto Grosso in B minor and then the highlight of the concert – ‘Serenade For Strings’ by Sweden’s Dag Wiren  Apparently his only international success, this 1937 work is bright, lyrical and with unexpected moments that make this work fascinating to listen to.  The opening movement, with its contrasting rhythms, was beautifully played by the orchestra and the second movement with its extensive string plucking was nimbly handled.  The last movement, with its familiar theme used in Britain’s 1960s ‘Monitor’ television program, was a well-played finale to the work.

Australian composer, Graeme Koehne, is best known for his orchestral and ballet scores.  In three movements, his 1983 ‘String Quartet’ is an interesting and melodic work with dark tensions underneath.  The orchestra played this work with real depth and feeling.  The final Elegy was especially movingly played.

The final work presented – Janacek’s ‘Suite For Strings’ – was composed in 1877.  While there are hints of Beethoven and Dvorak here and there, overall the work is distinctly that of Janacek and an excellent one to end a concert.  The orchestra was especially impressive playing the second Adagio movement.

As always, Leonard Weiss conducted the orchestra with strong clarity of purpose, obtaining fine results from this enthusiastic and very able group of local music makers.  Musica Da Camera are always notable for the variety in their choice of works played.  This was another fine concert from this Canberra orchestra.

There will be a second performance of this concert on Sunday 28 August at 2.00pm in the Gunning Shire Hall.

Len Power’s reviews can also be heard on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘Artcetera’ program on Saturdays from 9am.

Friday, August 26, 2016


By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
English translation and adaption by Michael Gow
Orchestral arrangement by Robert Greene
Conducted by Paul Fitzsimon
Directed by Michael Gow
Designed by Robert Kemp
Lighting Designed by Matt Scott
Opera Australia on Tour
Canberra Theatre 25th  to 27th August 2016

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

This is the third Mozart opera adapted and directed by Michael Gow for Opera Australia on Tour, and certainly his best to date. For this production Gow has written an English translation. He’s also stripped away most of the recitative, and replaced it spoken dialogue. Although a bit surprising at first, this dialogue is witty and clarifies the storyline, and works a treat.  resulting in plentiful  guffaws from the audience.

Gow has also introduces a children’s chorus to replace the small adult chorus. This not only eliminates the cost of touring adult choristers, but provides a rare and valuable opportunity for local children, in the centres visited by the opera company, to experience participation in a professional opera production. It also increases the potential audience of parents and grandparents, besides adding considerable charm to the production.

Gow and his designer, Robert Kemp, have set this production of Mozart’s delicious comedy of manners, in the period in which it was written, the 1780’s, providing Kemp with the opportunity to design colourful Goya-inspired costumes, and a lovely setting of a large, featureless room, overpainted with an Arcadian landscape, which works marvellously for both the indoor and outdoor scenes.

Gow’s inspired direction makes great use of the plentiful doors and windows in this setting to provide a continuous series of lovely stage pictures, perfectly lit by Matt Scott to capture the charm of the period, sometimes lighting solos with just a row of footlights to give the appearance of how that opera might have appeared in Mozart’s day.

This production comes complete with an elegant chamber orchestra, under the direction of Paul Fitzsimon, who keeps the tempi brisk, while allowing his singers sufficient room for individual interpretation, particularly in the glorious ensemble numbers. 

Jeremy Kleeman (Figaro),  Celeste Lazarenko (Susanna)
It also comes with an excellent cast of fine singers headed by Jeremy Kleeman as a handsome and spirited Figaro.  Kleeman’s fine baritone and infectious joie de vivre is perfectly matched by the stylish singing and acting of Celeste Lazarenko as Susanna, and together they make an engaging pair of lovers.

Wonderfully elegant as the bitchy housekeeper, Marcellina, Kristen Leich is well teamed with Steven Gallop as Dr. Bartolo. Their reactions to the news that they are actually Figaro’s parents provide some of the funniest moments in the opera.

Brad Cooper (Don Basilio), Kristen Leich (Marcellina),
Steven Gallop (Bartolo), Simon Meadows (Count Almaviva) 

Agnes Sarkis gets her fair share of laughs as the amorous page-boy, Cherubino, and Emma Castelli, makes a lovely Countess Almaviva, her letter-song duet with Susanna, providing a vocal and visual highlight among many during the evening.  As her philandering husband, Count Almaviva, Simon Meadows cuts a dashing figure, singing strongly and acting with conviction, though few in the audience would be convinced of his final contrition.

Jenny Liu, who alternates in the role of Susanna, made the most of her opportunities as Barbarina, while Brad Cooper has great fun demonstrating his versatility as a remarkably flamboyant Don Basilio, and a bumptious Don Curzio.

Fresh, elegant and innovative, this production is not only a treat to watch, but also a delight to listen to. Superb singing throughout, with obvious attention paid by the singers to their diction and characterisations, resulting in plenty of guffaws as the audience got caught up in the storyline. No mean feat for a night at the opera.

Agnes Sakis as Cherubino

This review also published in Australian Arts Review.


Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte
English translation and adaptation by Michael Gow
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Directed by Michael Gow
Conductor: Paul Fitzsimon
Opera Australia
Canberra Theatre Centre to 27 August

Review by Len Power 25 August 2016

First performed in Vienna in 1786, Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ has gone on to become one of the most popular operas of all time.

The amusing story involves a wealthy household in Seville.  Figaro is marrying Susanna, but the Count wants to seduce her first.  Marcellina wants Figaro and the Countess just wants her husband back.  Plots and counter-plots fly thick and fast and, of course, everything works out fine in the end.

Michael Gow’s translation and production adds freshness and down to earth contemporary humour while remaining true to its period.  Sung in English, great care has been taken with diction to ensure the words can be clearly heard and the physical action of the farcical aspects of the plot has been very cleverly staged.  The performers all present in depth, realistic characterizations and display a gift for comedy in their delivery.

The fine ensemble of singers all gave musically strong and satisfying performances.  Steven Gallop’s distinctive bass voice for Doctor Bartolo was heard superbly in his ‘Vengeance’ aria.  Emma Castelli sang a nicely emotional ‘Porgi amor, qualche ristoro’ and Celeste Lazarenko gave a delightful ‘Voi que sapete che cosa è amor’, one of the most well-known arias in opera.  In fact, the highlights were too numerous to mention – everyone in the cast had their moment to shine.  There was also especially fine singing by the local choir of young voices and they looked delightful in their costumes.

Nicely conducted by Paul Fitzsimon, the eight piece orchestra played very well but needed more strength in the strings at times.  The production designed by Robert Kemp was simple, very practical and attractive.  The cast were dressed in fine period costumes.  The lighting design by Matt Scott complemented the set very well and the use of footlights gave some nice shadow effects.

‘The Marriage Of Figaro’ is always a lot of fun but this production makes things a lot clearer and accessible for today’s audiences.  If this was the first opera you decided to try, you couldn’t do any better.

Len Power’s reviews can also be heard on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Artcetera’ program from 9am on Saturdays.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


© by Jane Freebury

Of all the titles to choose for a film about a man facing his premature demise, Truman takes its name from a saggy, baggy old boxer dog in need of a good home. A vague connection with former American presidents or celebrity writers is no guide to what we find within, though breaking the name down into its components gives a sense of what the film is on about. 

As a companion for Julian (Ricardo Darin), Truman has been as faithful, steady and reliable as a pet could be during his master's closing act. In truth, the dog doesn’t seem long for this world either. Julian's cousin Paula (Dolores Fonzi), Julian’s closest family in Madrid, is fond and caring but seems rather duty-bound to her irascible and difficult relative, a theatre actor who arrived from Argentina long ago, and never returned home.

When Tomas (Javier Camara) flies in from Canada on a surprise four-day visit, Truman has to play second fiddle while the two old friends get out and about. There’s an appointment with Julian's doctor, a visit to the vet, some research at a bookshop, a visit to the funeral parlour, but there are diverting outings too. All the while, the tone is kept light, as Julian remains stoic, ironic and emotionally honest.
Slowly - slyly? - the film reveals the facts. That Julian is terminally ill with cancer, that he is a working stage actor still (he says he wasn’t any good on screen), that he remains on excellent terms with his former wife, and that he perhaps hasn't a lot to show for his life except a string of affairs and a middling career. It's not that writer-director Cesc Gay makes a fetish of withholding important information, it's just that there is only so much we need to know at any one time. It’s up to us to keep up.

Tomas has flown in from Canada on a mission, but as soon as he sees his old friend he knows that it is futile. Julian has decided he won't continue chemotherapy. His sole remaining goal in life is to find Truman a suitable home. 

What really matters is the two blokes in frame and in close up, and their friendship in hard times. Darin and Camara are both superb. In one particular scene, they ask what they have learned from each other. Apart from the illegal things, courage, says Tomas. Generosity, says Julian. Yes, we’ve noted that Tomas pays all the bills.

Julian has a knack for drawing Tomas out, encouraging him to recognize his feelings. Perhaps this accounts for the jarring moment when Tomas and Paula sleep together. Or is it to show the paradox of the loyal friend who can also be the faithless husband?

In 2013, I found Gay's comedy of gender relations, A Gun in Each Hand an initially promising but frustrating experience. It also featured Darin and Camara. This time, Gay has absolutely nailed it with Truman, a deeply satisfying mature drama liberally sprinkled with humour, wit, warmth and insight. 

4 Stars

Also published at