Sunday, July 23, 2023

CHOPIN'S PIANO - Musica Viva Australia

Jennifer Vuletic and AuraGo in "Chopin's Piano".

Written by Paul Kildea and Richard Pyros - Directed by Richard Pyros

Lighting designed Richard Vabre – Costumes and Props designed by Christina Smith

Sound Designed by Kelly Ryall. Performed by Aura Go and Jennifer Vuletic

Llewellyn Hall, Canberra, 19th July 2023.

Performance reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

Musica Viva is to be applauded for its efforts to explore innovative ideas for the presentation of classical music.

To this end, the idea of showcasing the prodigious talents of Musica Viva’s 2018 “Future Maker”, Aura Go, by presenting all twenty-four of Chopin’s preludes against the background of the fascinating story of the small pianina from Majorca on which Chopin composed them, offered enticing prospects.

Adding to the enticements were the facts that author, Paul Kildea, would work with director, Richard Pyros to adapt his best seller, “Chopin’s Piano: A Journey through Romanticism”, and that both celebrated actress, Jennifer Vuletic, as well as the featured artist, pianist Aura Go, would enact the adaptation.

Given therefore that the concert was entitled, “Chopin’s Piano”, and that Chopin’s actual piano was a rather small instrument, it came as something of a surprise, when entering Llewellyn Hall, to discover that the program would be performed on a full sized concert grand, rather than a period instrument and that both Go and Vuletic would interpret a number of characters during the performance.

Jennifer Vuletic in "Chopin's Piano"

The concert commenced promisingly with Vuletic, a striking figure in the costume of an  Eighteenth century gentlemen, beginning  the story of the piano, while Aura Go, dressed as Mozart, commenced the first of the preludes.

It quickly became obvious that Go was indeed an exciting pianist. However it was also obvious that the acoustic on the vast concert hall stage favoured the piano. But as attractive as the piano sounded, the acoustic reverb muddied the spoken word, so that when Vuletic changed characters, and adopted histrionic, theatrically heightened, European accents; it became nearly impossible to understand what she was saying.

Further acerbating the problem was the fact that as Vuletic’s costume for all four characters in the first act; Juan Bauza, George Sand, Franz Liszt and Eugene Delacroix, remained pretty much the same, making it difficult to keep track of which character was which, particularly for those in the audience unaware that George Sand was a female with a penchant for wearing men’s clothes.

Jennifer Vuletic and Aura Go in "Chopin's Piano"

For the second act, Vuletic changed into a period female costume to portray Wanda Landowska and Peggy Guggenheim, then a Nazi Officer and back to Juan Bauza. 

Go, an untrained actor, was given an impossible task which would have challenged even Sir Laurence Olivier. That  of providing convincing portrayals of five male characters, Alexander Binder, Henri Lew, Constantin Brancusi, a Nazi Office, US Immigration Officer, as well Wanda Landowska’s lesbian protégé, Denise Restout, while interpreting the rest of Chopin’s preludes, still  wearing her Chopin costume. It’s doubtful whether Olivier could have managed the preludes, but Go did, superbly.

Aura Go and Jennifer Vuletic in "Chopin's Piano"

Although director, Pyros, made effective use of lighting and silhouettes to create some striking stage pictures, even if every line of dialogue had been crystal clear, his over-ambitious effort to cram too much superfluous detail into what surely was meant as a showcase for Aura Go’s pianistic virtuosity, may have been better served by simply accompanying her preludes with a simple narration.

                                                        Images by Aaron Francis

      This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.