Tuesday, March 21, 2023

FROM BROKEN HILL TO BEL CANTO - Louise Keast with Donna Balson for National Opera.


Donna Balson and Louise Keast in "From Broken Hill to Bel Canto"

Wesley Music Centre, March 19.

 Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

It could have been the title for a recital by her inspiration, the late June Bronhill, who also commenced her career in Broken Hill. Louise Keast acknowledged as much by commencing her recital with two testing arias often associated with Bronhill; Mozart’s “Porgi Amor” from “The Marriage of Figaro”, which she revealed that she sang for her Higher School Certificate, and for her audition for Opera Australia; and Donizetti’s “Regnava nel silenzio” from “Lucia di Lammermoor” which, as this was her first public performance of this aria, she dedicated to Bronhill.

Keast’s voice is a very different instrument to Bronhill’s. At this stage, perhaps not as flexible, but much darker and impressively large and powerful.

She’s well-known to Canberra audiences. After having studied classical voice with Adele Nisbet at th Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, she moved to Canberra in 2014, where she became a Wesley Music Scholar and continued her studies with Christina Wilson, also playing cello with the Maruki Community Orchestra and singing Mimi for Canberra Opera’s production of “La Boheme”.

Keast took advantage of this recital to showcase the remarkable improvement in her range and technique since her last Canberra appearances, having joined the Opera Australia chorus in 2021, and become an Associate Artist with Melbourne Opera, for which she’s performed the roles of Wellgunde in Wagner’s “Das Rheingold”, Countess Almaviva in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” and Marzelline in Beethoven’s “Fidelio”.

She’s also performed leading roles for other companies, as well as other impressive engagements including performing as a principal artist in the Festival Junger Kunstler in Bayreuth where she presented two solo operatic recitals.

This Canberra recital continued with a short piano interlude for which associate artist, Donna Balson, chose three charming short piano pieces by Puccini entitled “Tre pezzi senza voce”, before Keast performed an aria she had previously performed in her Bayreuth recitals,  “Gluck, das mir verblieb” from Korngold’s opera “Die tote Stadt”.   

Then followed the delightful “Four Lieder Op 27” which Richard Strauss had composed as a wedding present to his wife, before Balson lightened the tone with a cheeky interpretation of Percy Grainger’s “Handel in the Strand”, which she introduced by informing the audience that Grainger had instructed that this piece could be performed with or without clog dancers. She chose the latter.  

Keast returned to perform two songs by Australian women composers, Peggy Glanville-Hicks’ “Come Sleep”, and a moody song by Elena Kats-Chernin, “Late Spring”, before bringing out the big guns, two massive arias she remarked that she was singing in public for the first time. 

Firstly, Bellini’s “Oh! Quante volte” from his opera “Capuleti e i Montecchi” and finally bringing her impressively  wide ranging recital to a thrilling conclusion with a stunning interpretation of the Verdi aria “Sempre Libera” from “La Traviata” in which Keast revealed her dramatic potential as well as rattling the walls of the  Wesley Centre with the sheer power of her voice.

The first in what is planned to be a series of such recitals for National Opera, “From Broken Hill to Bel Canto” has set a high bar for the rest of the year.


                                                    Photo by Haley Manning

          This review first published in CANBERRA CITY NEWS on 20th March 2023.