Tuesday, July 30, 2019


Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest 27 July

Reviewed by Len Power

On the 21st of July 2018, Canberra Sinfonia gave their inaugural concert – a program of Mozart and Schubert, conducted by Leonard Weiss.  Their patron, singer Louise Page, stated in the program for that concert that ‘one of the hardest times in a young musician’s life is bridging the gap between student training and employment with an established musical body’.  Canberra Sinfonia was created to help bridge that gap.

Now, a year and several memorable performances later, they celebrated their first birthday with a concert of music by Haydn and Wagner, again conducted by Leonard Weiss.

The program commenced with ‘Siegfried Idyll’ by Richard Wagner.  Composed as a birthday present to his second wife, Cosima, after the birth of their son, Siegfried, in 1869, the piece received its premiere in 1870 at the Wagners’ villa in Switzerland, with Cosima awaking to its opening melody.  Wagner’s opera, ‘Siegfried’, which premiered in 1876, incorporates music from the ‘Idyll’.

The orchestra gave a fine performance of this atmospheric work.  There was a great confidence and clarity in their playing, bringing out the full colour in the music.

Conductor: Leonard Weiss

Haydn’s Symphony No. 92 in G major made up the second half of the concert.  It was composed in Paris in 1789 and was later given the nickname of the ‘Oxford’ symphony in the mistaken belief that Haydn had played it in 1791 in Oxford when he received an honorary doctorate.  In fact, he played a minuet which is heard in Haydn’s 1772 symphony no. 47.

The orchestra gave an especially strong performance of the second half of the first movement.  There was a real sense of excitement in their playing, edgy and crisp and very satisfying.

The melodies in the adagio second movement were played with warmth and sensitivity.  The orchestra played the last two movements with great skill and accuracy, handling Haydn’s witty timing elements very well.

Canberra Sinfonia demonstrated with this birthday concert that they are a major force in the Canberra musical scene.  These young musicians have gone from strength to strength in the past year, demonstrating a high level of skill and maturity in their playing.

Photos by Peter Hislop
This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 28 July 2019

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


Presented by Musica Viva
Llewellyn Hall 25 July

Reviewed by Len Power
In a sold-out performance at Llewellyn Hall, The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge presented a hugely memorable concert.

The choir has been in existence since King’s College at Cambridge was founded by King Henry VI in 1441.  Its primary purpose has always been the daily singing of services in the college’s chapel.  With extensive touring and recordings, the choir enjoys an internationally famous reputation.

Presented by Musica Viva, the choir is touring Australia with concerts in the capital cities.  Canberra was given the second of two programs being presented.  The director of the choir, Daniel Hyde, described it as a ‘chamber’ program.  The choir was joined for certain items by harpist, Alice Giles, and cellist, Umberto Clerici.

The large program included several works by 16th and 17th century composers such as Monteverdi, Cavalli, Byrd, Tallis and Gibbons.  Works by later composers such as Britten and Vaughan Williams were also presented and there were works by contemporary composers Judith Weir, Errollyn Wallen and Australia’s Ross Edwards.

Commencing with Monteverdi’s ‘Cantate Domino’, the choir impressed with their clear diction, finely sustained notes, confidence in maintaining the various parts and the sheer beauty of their voices.  The contrast between the voices of the men and the boys gave the works a notable depth and colour.

The quality of performance was sustained through every item.  Highlights of the first half of the program included a moving performance of Bach’s ‘Komm, Jesu, komm’, Cavalli’s ‘Salve Regina’, sung with great feeling by the men only, and the glorious ‘A Ceremony of Carols’ by Benjamin Britten.  There were also fine accompaniments by cellist, Umberto Clerici and harpist, Alice Giles.

The second half commenced with a joyful performance of William Byrd’s ‘Laudibus in sanctis’.  It was followed by Thomas Tallis’s ‘Loquebantur variis linguis’ with its intricate harmonies expertly sung.

Harpist, Alice Giles, gave a brilliant solo performance of Carlos Salzedo’s ‘Variations on a theme in Ancient Style’.

Singing the challenging contemporary works of Ross Edwards, Judith Weir and Errollyn Wallen, the choir showed it was equally at home with more than just traditional choral works.

The program finished with a superb performance of Vaughan Williams’ ‘Valiant-for-truth’.  The response from the appreciative audience at the end of the concert was deservedly overwhelming.

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 26 July 2019

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

Monday, July 29, 2019


Rated G, 93 mins
Capitol Cinemas Manuka, Dendy Canberra Centre, Palace Electric New Acton

5 Stars

Review © Jane Freebury

There are no talking heads recalling the event or opining its significance in this new doco about the first moon landing. Apollo 11 tells a well-known story in a fresh and dynamic way that is entirely in the moment, so we might as well be there too.

It is an exemplary record of the first time that men walked on the moon, and the astonishing story, a form of 'direct cinema' composed with archival material, is made to feel like ‘being there’ in July 1969.

No interviews, no voice over, and no re-enactments

Director Todd Douglas Miller, commissioned by CNN to direct a commemorative 50th anniversary documentary, apparently found much more footage than he could have hoped for in the archives. New vision in super wide 70mm of the launch complex, the crowds who attended and the astronauts’ recovery, helps make the film feel fresh.

There are no interviews, no voice-over narration (except an occasional announcement recorded at the time) nor any dramatised re-enactments. Skilfully put together, with a marvellous original score by Matt Morton, it layers the drama bit by bit, slotting the developments into place, taking into account the precision of the aerospace engineering that is on display.

We can expect to hear more from Miller, who has directed just one other commercial film to date. He was also the editor and one of the producers of Apollo 11.

Opening a time capsule, not a single selfie in sight

Things get rolling with the Saturn rocket on its way to the launch pad. We can see for ourselves how massive it is.
Now and again, the camera sweeps the crowds of onlookers gathering at a short distance from the launch area. They are filming on their Bell & Howell and Canon home movie cameras, and there isn’t a single selfie in sight.

Inside NASA, there are  teams of the men (plus an occasional woman) who made it happen. Rows and rows of them, in white business shirt and tie, anxiously consulting lines of consoles, while outside bands of journalists and hushed families, relaxing in the summer heat, wait for blast-off. Apollo 11 is like opening a time capsule.

Images of the pitted lunar surface and our beautiful blue planet from afar are so much more familiar 50 years on, but Apollo 11 manages to engender wonder and exhilaration for what was a momentous achievement at the time, and in the pre-digital age too.

Unfortunately, it cannot be ignored that the malefactor Richard Nixon was US President at the time of landing, and some of the glory unfortunately falls to him. However, the film seems to get around this by not naming him when he congratulates astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on the success of their mission.

The late President Kennedy, makes a brief appearance, as he should, delivering a few lines from his famous ‘we choose to go to the moon’ speech. But it's not until the end credits, because in 1969 he of course was no longer there.

A new documentary for the 50-year anniversary of the moon landing was inevitable, but there was no guarantee that it would be exceptional.

Jane's reviews are also published at her blog, the Film Critics Circle of Australia, and broadcast on ArtSound FM MHz 92.7

Sunday, July 28, 2019


Leigh Melrose as Brett Whiteley

Composed by Elena Kats-Chernin – Libretto by Justin Fleming
Conducted by Tahu Matheson – Directed by David Freeman
Designed by  Dan Potra – Lighting designed by John Rayment
Presented by Opera Australia

 Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House, 15th – 30th July 2019.

Matinee on 27th July Reviewed by Bill Stephens

During one of the most lyrical arias in this opera, gazing from the balcony of their home overlooking Lavendar Bay, Wendy sings to Brett Whiteley, “Don’t look at me. Look at what I see”. It’s a moment that succinctly pinpoints the inspiration for some of Whiteley’s most successful paintings.

Leigh Melrose as Brett Whiteley in "Whiteley". 

The opera begins with Brett Whiteley gazing frustratedly at one of his final works in his Surry Hills studio. It ends with a moving trio, set in Wendy Whiteley’s famed secret garden in Lavender Bay with which Whiteley’s ex-wife, Wendy, his daughter, Arkie and mother, Beryl reflect on Brett’s life. Because both these locations still exist in Sydney, and are easily visited, the effect is startling.

Between these two events, Justin Fleming’s libretto focusses on key events which proved turning points in Whiteley’s very public career. His early London success in becoming the youngest-ever artist to sell to Britain’s Tate Gallery - his failure to impress the American art market - his expulsion from Fiji because of his drug use - his descent into drug addiction through his efforts to capture on canvas his very darkest drug-addled visions – and through it all, his relationship with his muse, Wendy and their daughter, Arkie.

Brett Whiteley (Leigh Melrose) paints Wendy Whiteley (Julie Lea Goodwin)

It’s a journey that is both fascinating and frustrating, particularly for those in the audience who either knew Whiteley personally or through his artworks or the many books and media reports spawned by his tempestuous career. Because, by necessity, some of the references are brief, many will find themselves compelled to trawl back through those books to discover the significance on Whiteley’s career of some of the characters portrayed in the opera.

Kats-Chernin’s music, as superbly interpreted by the Opera Australia orchestra under Tahu Matheson, is lush, evocative, sometimes atonal, but always accessible and strewn with lovely melodies. The scene in which the Christie murder victims sing from the walls in which their bodies are entombed, is particularly haunting, both aurally and visually, as is her music for balmy Fijian scene, at first relaxed family  holiday mood but cleverly underscored to foreshadow the families’ unexpected expulsion for drug possession. Her big choruses are thrilling and marvelously sung by the Opera Australia chorus.

British baritone, Leigh Melrose, makes an impressive Opera Australia debut as Brett Whiteley. Bearing a striking resemblance to the artist he sings strongly in a compelling performance that, despite his character's apparent penchant for pompous declarations about his place in art history, convincingly charts Whiteley’s frustration as his powers decline with the onset of his heroin addiction.

Julie Lea Goodwin (Wendy Whiteley) - Nicholas Jones (Michael Driscoll) - Leigh Melrose (Brett Whiteley)
Kate Amos (Arkie Whiteley)

As his soulmate and muse, Wendy Whiteley, Julie Lea Goodwin also gives a memorable performance capturing perfectly Wendy’s realization that despite their love for each other, and their daughter Arkie (Kate Amos), she is powerless to save Brett from his devils.

Among the large supporting cast, Dominica Matthews as Beryl Whiteley, Richard Anderson as Joel Elenberg, Nicholas Jones as Wendy’s lover, Michael Driscoll, Gregory Brown as Patrick White, Alexander Hargreaves as Robert Hughes, Tomas Dalton as Bryan Robertson, Jonathan Alley as John Rothenstein, Brad Cooper as Frank Lloyd, Leah Thomas as Anna Schwartz, Angela Hogan as Janice Spencer and Sitiveni Talei as a Fijian Police Officer all add to the enjoyment with strongly drawn characterizations.

Leigh Melrose (Brett Whiteley) - Kate Amos (Arkie Whiteley) 

Designer Dan Potra has made ingenious use of huge LED screen reproductions of Whiteley’s most famous paintings to illustrate his state of mind at key points, as when his work is being rejected by Frank Lloyd, or when he’s painting Wendy in the bath, or to flood the stage with spectacular imagery for the scene in which Whitely is presented to the queen. Revolving stages allow characters to glide seamlessly from riotous parties to romantic bedrooms. 

A scene from Opera Australia's production of "Whiteley" 

Brett Whiteley lived life on an operatic scale. Opera Australia has invested huge resources to do that life justice. Hopefully the audience response to this short season will have been sufficient to insure “Whiteley” a place in Opera Australia’s repertoire. 

                                                     Photos by: Prudence Upton

     This review also appears in Australian Arts  Review. www.artsreview.com.au

Australian World Orchestra, Llewellyn Hall, 27 July 27. Reviewed by GRAHAM MCDONALD.

AWO. Photo: Peter Hislop
THIS is a big orchestra. 80 musicians, including 60 string players, mostly mid-career professional orchestral musicians from Australian and European orchestras.
These are musicians at the height of their musical abilities enjoying the opportunity to perform with an orchestra of their peers. There were smiles all around as they walked onto the stage, with nods and waves to friends in the audience. This quickly turned to focused attention on the music as they were joined by the conductor and musical director Alexander Briger. 
The first work was Nigel Westlake’s Flying Dreams,  a reworking of his orchestral score for the 2015 film Paper Planes. This is a work full or complex orchestration, with layers of shifting tonal colour. It takes advantage of the size of the orchestra with each section blending together, yet distinct. The immediate impression was a wonderful balance of sound. Smaller orchestras can struggle balancing the brass with the strings and woodwinds, but here it just worked.
This was followed by Taras Bulba, a Rhapsody for Orchestra by the Czech composer Leos  Janáček. This work also took advantage of the size of the orchestra, with the addition of an organ, harp and four percussionists. Janacek was fascinated by Russia and much of his work had Russian themes. Taras Bulba is based on a novella by Gogol  and tells the story of the various unpleasant deaths of the Cossack Taras Bulba and his two sons. There is romance, battles and executions depicted in the score of this fascinating piece of music. This work is a particular favourite of Briger and the orchestra responded to his enthusiasm with vigour and precision.

Par of the strings section. Photo: Peter Hislop

The final work in the program was Symphony No.2 in D major, Op.43 by Jean Sibelius. This did not quite seem to have the cohesion of the first two works, but still a stirring performance and final few minutes building to the climactic ending was orchestral playing at its most inspiring. 
The delight of the musicians was obvious and the audience could sense they relished the chance to play in this orchestra. As the audience were leaving the eight bass players remained on stage so they could have a group photo taken, grins still on their faces. It said a lot about how the musicians felt.
This concert was the second of only two performances this year. There is no performance in Sydney and curious that no members of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra are included in the AWO. Perhaps clashes of schedules intervened.