Thursday, July 11, 2024

THE WOMAN IN BLACK - Canberra Theatre


John Waters and Daniel Macpherson in "A Woman in Black"

Written by Susan Hill – Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt

Directed by Robin Herford – Associate Director Antony Eden

Designed by Michael Holt – Lighting Design by Kevin Sleep

Sound Design by Sebastian Frost – Original Sound Design by Rod Mead

Canberra Theatre, July 10th – 14th, 2024 Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.


A homage to the art of theatre- making and a reminder of the power of the human imagination in good story-telling, The Woman in Black up until 2023, had been running in London for over 30 years.  

Canberra readers may even remember Tessa Bremner’s 2005 production for The Canberra Repertory Society which starred the late Oliver Baudert and Cameron Thomas.

This production however is a reproduction of Robert Herford’s original, reproduced for this current Australian tour by Antony Eden. Appropriately, it eschews whiz-bang technical advances in modern theatre trickery production in favour of a return to simple theatrical effects and excellent acting to spark the imagination and entertain its audience.  And remarkably effective it is too.  

Daniel Macpherson and John Waters in "The Woman in Black"

Two of the country’s most accomplished actors in John Waters as Arthur Kipps and Daniel Macpherson a The Actor, manage to convince the willing audience that they are watching as many characters as are necessary for the telling of Arthur Kipps convoluted, gripping story involving a haunted house, a graveyard and perhaps, a ghost. 

Utilising the conceit of convincing the audience that it is being let into some theatrical tricks of the trade, both meet backstage of a musty old theatre.

The Actor agrees to help Arthur Kipps improve his presentation skills in order to divest himself of a series of troubling events which have been destroying his piece of mind for years.  In the process, they both become thoroughly invested in the story-telling along with the audience.

By simply adopting a different voice, or change of physical bearing and multiple quick changes of clothing, the audience soon become complicit with the convention and happy to go along with the pair as it too becomes involved in the story.

Laughs come thick and fast as in seconds a wicker basket becomes a solicitor’s desk, a railway carriage, an altar, a trap or a bed.  A simple gauze lit from a different angle reveals something previously invisible. Recorded sounds heighten the illusion.

However none of this would work without the skill of the actors, and both Waters and Macpherson revels in the opportunity to demonstrate their range.

John Waters and Daniel Macpherson in "A Woman in Black"


In fact what they offer is a masterclass in timing, vocal delivery, stage deportment and commitment to each character they create. The audience favourite however was Spider. You’ll definitely fall in love with Spider.

Delightfully entertaining and involving, even a bit scary at times, The Woman in Black should be de rigueur for any lover of theatre, particularly for the opportunity it offers to experience two accomplished actors exercising their considerable theatrical skills.

                                                         Images by Justin Nicholas

     This review also posted in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.

TOSCA - Opera Australia


Gevorg Hakabyan (Scarpia) and Opera Australia Chorus and Childrens Chorus in "Tosca"

Composed by Giacomo Puccini – Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa

Directed by Edward Dick – Conducted by Johannes Fritzsch

Set designed  by Tom Scutt – Costumes designed by Fotini Dimou

Lighting Designed by Lee Currank – Choreographed by Maxine Braham

Fight Coordinator: Blake Wells – Intimacy Coordinator: Chloe Dallimore

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House June 25th –August 16th 2024

Performance on July 2nd reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

Gevorg Hakobyan (Scarpia) and Opera Australia Chorus and Children's Chorus in " Tosca"


Famously described by musicologist Joseph Kerman as a “shabby little shocker”, Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca is much more than that, although there are some moments in Edward Dick’s explicit staging when that description certainly feels rather apt.

Inspired by Victorien Sardou’s melodrama, Tosca tells the story of an opera singer of the same name, who finds herself besotted by a painter, Cavaradossi. Cavaradossi however finds himself in a spot of bother when he helps a political prisoner, Angelotti, escape the clutches of villainous Police Chief, Scarpia.

Scarpia also has a thing for Tosca so when Cavaradossi refuses to reveal the whereabouts of Angelotti, Scarpia, has him thrown into goal, tortured and eventually killed so that he can have his way with Tosca. Tosca however kills Scarpia and commits suicide.

Young Woo Kim (Cavaradossi) -Giselle Allen (Tosca) .

This production, shared in collaboration with Opera North, is beautiful to look at although occasionally puzzling dramatically.  But best of all it offers the opportunity to hear three exceptional singers in Irish soprano, Giselle Allen as Tosca, Korean Tenor, Young Woo Kim as Cavaradossi and Armenian baritone,  Gevorg Hakobyan as Scarpia, all three making their first appearances with Opera Australia.

The main feature of Tom Scutt’s abstract setting is a huge gilded dome on which is painted a Renaissance fresco. Initially suspended above a raised semi-circular stage the dome is repositioned for the other acts. Behind the raised stage racks of votive candles are lit by an altar boy at various points. Behind these again are banks of sometimes blinding spotlights.

For the opening scene, set in a church, this works beautifully, with Cavaradossi painting a missing section of the dome featuring the eyes of Mary Magdalene. But in the second act with that section in place and the dome repositioned, given the political references scattered throughout the opera, it’s difficult not to be distracted by wondering about the significance of having Scarpia’s bedroom set in the middle of a church. 

Also, although Fotini Dimou’s costumes appear to suggest the fashions of the 1940’s, why does Scarpia listen to opera on his laptop while waiting for Tosca to arrive, and his henchmen communicate on mobile phones?  

Giselle Allen (Tosca) - Gevorg Hakobyan (Scarpia).

Ambiguities apart, there is much to admire in this production. At the top of the list, Giselle Allen’s remarkable Tosca. No shrinking violet this lady. Her stunning vocal attack and powerful voice were immediately arresting.  Every inch the Diva in the first act, flirtatious and manipulative, she exhibits hints of steel as she insists that Cavaradossi change the colour of Mary Magdalene’s eyes in his painting.

Gevorg Hakobyan (Scarpia) - Benjamin Rasheed (Spoletta) - Giselle Allen (Tosca)

Then in the second act in survival mode, she’s remarkably athletic when resisting Scarpia’s lascivious advances, toppling over furniture, crashing to the floor, even commencing her “Visi d’arte” lying exhausted on the floor.  Finally in the last act she actually falls to her death to deprive her captors of the satisfaction of killing her.  Allen’s  is a memorable tour de force performance.

Supporting this performance Young Woo Kim as Cavaradossi, blessed with a striking steely tenor and confident stage presence, immediately commands attention, while Gevorg Hakobyan seems born to play the evil Scarpia, revelling in flaunting his power over his unfortunate victims.

Young Woo Kim ( Cavaradossi) - Giselle Allen (Tosca) - Benjamin Rasheed (Spoletta).

Surrounding this formidable trio, Benjamin Rasheed and Luke Gabbedy offered chilling characterisations as Scarpia’s creepy henchmen, Spoletta and Sciarrone, while David Parkin made the most of his opportunities as the doomed Angelotti. Andrew Moran delighted with his cameo performance as the grumpy Sacristan.

Responding to Johannes Fritzsch masterful baton, The Opera Australia Orchestra thrilled with its rendition of Puccini’s dramatic score, particularly in the first act when it was joined by the Opera Australia Chorus and Children’s Chorus.

For anyone open to a challenging new approach to a favourite opera, Edward Dick’s imaginative staging should not be missed.

                                                  Images by Keith Saunders

An edited version of this review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 10/7/24

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

IL TRITTICO - Opera Australia


David Parkin (Betto di Signa) - Tomas Dalton (Rinuccio) - Kanen Breen (Gherardo) -Jane Ede (Nella) - Alexander Hargreaves (Marco) - Adele Johnston (Zita) - Angela Hogan (La Ciesa) - Richard Anderson (Simone) -in "Gianni Schicchi"

Composed by Giacomo Puccini – Conducted by Lidiya Yankovskaya

“IL Tabarro” – Directed by Constantine Costi – “Suor Angelica” - Directed by Imara Savage

“Gianni Schicchi” – Directed by Shaun Rennie

 Set and Costumes designed by Michael Hankin – Lighting designed by Verity Hampson

Assistant Directors: Danielle Maas and Julia Robertson.

Intimacy and Movement Director: Chloe Dallimore.

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House. 3rd to 19th July, 2024.                                    

Opening Night performance on July 3rd reviewed by BILL STEPHENS

Puccini’s triptych of three disparate operas linked by a single theme relating to the concealment of death, under the title, Il Trittico, first premiered in the Metropolitan Opera House, New York in 1918, has been given a masterly production in the Sydney Opera House by Opera Australia.

An inspired idea by Artistic Director Jo Davies to divide the directing duties between three of the country’s brightest young directors has resulted in as scintillating a night of opera that offers something for everyone.  

Virgilio Marino (Tinca) - Olivia Cranwell (Giorgetta) -Viktor Antipenko (Luigi)
and the cast of "Il Tabarro"

Constantine Costi’s commission was Il Tabarro, a turgid tale of murder brought about by jealousy; Imara Savage was allotted Suor Angelica, Puccini’s all-female opera set in a convent, and Shaun Rennie drew the comic opera, Gianni Schicchi which focusses on the shenanigans of an avaricious family fighting over their inheritance.

Designer Michael Hankin was given the challenge of designing sets and costumes for all three operas, while Russian-American conductor, Lidiya Yankovskaya was offered to opportunity to conduct all three operas as her  first Opera Australia engagement.  

An added bonus for this arrangement was the opportunity it provided for some of Opera Australia’s most experienced singers to demonstrate their versatility by casting them in contrasting roles in various of the operas.

Hankin’s detailed setting for Il Tabarro seemed rather more suggestive of a run-down apartment than a barge on the Seine. The presence of deckhands unenthusiastically loading provisions did little to defuse the claustrophobic atmosphere created by confining most of the playing area to one side of the stage.    

Viktor Antipenko (Luigi) - Simon Meadows (Michelle) in "Il Tabarro"

However, despite the unconvincing setting, Constantine Costi with three world class soloists at his disposal as the three protagonists in Simon Meadows as the brooding Michelle; Olivia Cranwell as his unhappy young wife, Giorgetta; and Viktor Antipenko as Giorgetta’s unfortunate lover, Luigi;  and a dream supporting cast which included Angela Hogan, Richard Anderson, Virgilio Marino and Stacey Alleaume;  successfully created  an aching sense of foreboding which reached its highpoint in Simon Meadows superb rendition of “Nulla! Silenzio!”

No quibbles about Hankins’s gorgeous white-on-white set and costumes for Imara Savage’s superbly staged Suor Angelica for which the all-female cast achieved exactly the contemplative tone required for this opera. 


The Opera Australia Chorus in "Suor Angelica"

Establishing the mood at the very beginning of the opera, savage allows the audience to listen to a gorgeous  rendition of the “Opening Prayer” sung off-stage by the nuns while contemplating the high white walls which enclose the garden that provide the only touch of colour.

The nuns entrance to the garden to commence their daily chores,  dressed in spotless white habits, introduced Sister Angelica for whom the garden is her only solace as she isolates herself from her fellow nuns to spend hours tending the plants while hopelessly dreaming of being re-united with her child from whom she was separated at birth.

Lauren Fagan as Sister Angelica in "Suor Angelica"

Lauren Fagan is unforgettable as Sister Angelica. Her depiction of the nun’s response to being asked by La Principessa to give up her child, and her rendition of the aria, “Senza Mamma”, on learning of the child’s death, is almost unbearable to watch.

Fine performances from Angela Hogan as La Principessa, Adele Johnston as The Abbess, and Stacey Alleaume as the inquisitive Sister Genovieffa, together with the succession of superbly sung choruses would make Imara Savage’s exquisite staging definitive, were it not for the final moments for which, hopefully, she might find a more imaginative solution for the miracle climax than having the child make his entrance riding a three-wheel bike.

Intended by the composer as a release from the intense emotion evoked by the first two operas, the shenanigans of the Donati clan in his comic opera, Gianni Schicci, could hardly fail. 

Tomas Dalton (Rinuccio) - Adele Johnston (Zita) - David Parkin (Betto di Signa)
 - Richard Anderson (Simone) -Jane Ede (Nella) - Kanen Breen (Gherardo)
Alexander Hargreaves (Marco) - Angela Hogan (La Ciesca) in "Gianni Schicchi"

However this production also contained surprises. Among them, the inspired  inventiveness of Shaun Rennie’s clever, high-camp staging which took advantage of every nook and cranny of Hankins’s lavish, run-down Italian villa setting which the props department had obviously had a field day furnishing;  and the obvious relish of the cast  in embracing Rennie’s silliness without in any way compromising the quality of their singing.

Baritone Simon Meadows, so impressive earlier as the dour Michelle in Il Tabarro, surprised with his delightfully light-hearted turn as the wily Gianni Schicchi.  Adele Johnson, a vision in a purple satin ensemble, was ridiculously funny as Zita, the take-no-prisoners cousin of Buoso Donati.

Providing stiff competition, the eye-catching antics of Kanen Breen as Buoso’s grasping nephew, Gherardo, enthusiastically supported by Jane Ede as his wife, Nella and Millie Price as their obnoxious son, Gherardino.  

In no ways overshadowed, Richard Anderson, Angela Hogan, David Parkin, Alexander Hargreaves, Clifford Plumpton, Tomas Dalton, Tom Hamilton, Anthony Mackey and Tristan Entwistle, all contributed to the mayhem shamelessly and uproariously mistreating the dead body of their benefactor, Buoso Donati, portrayed by an unnamed actor who deserves some sort of a medal for stoically enduring their manhandling without ever cracking a smile.

 Kanen Breen (Gherardo) - Alexander Hargreaves (Marco) with the body of Buoso Donati
 in "Gianni Schicci"

But among all the hilarity, the most memorable takeaway from this production of Gianni Schicchi was the flawless rendition by Stacey Alleaume of one of the most popular soprano arias in opera, “O Mio Babbino Caro”.

Glorious singing from an outstanding cast supported by superb playing by the Opera Australia Orchestra conducted with considerable aplomb by Lidiya Yankovskaya; stamp this production of Il Trittico a triumph for all concerned, and a wonderful showcase for Opera Australia.

                                                Images by Keith Saunders

   An edited version of this review first published in CITY NEWS ON 8th July 2024


Sunday, July 7, 2024


National Capital Orchestra

Canberra Choral Society

Llewellyn Choir

Soloists: Sarah Darnley-Stuart (soprano), Emma Mauch (soprano), Ryan O’Donnell (Tenor) and Sitiveni Talei (Bass)

Conducted by Louis Sharpe

Llewellyn Hall July 6


Reviewed by Len Power


Although his Missa Solemnis is less well-known than his 9th Symphony, Beethoven composed both in 1824. Completed just three years before his death, his achievement with both works is astounding, given that by this time he was profoundly deaf. A reflection of Beethoven’s own spiritual beliefs, the Missa Solemnis pushed the boundaries of what a mass setting usually encompasses.

The work is rarely performed because it is one of the most demanding pieces in both choral and orchestral repertoire. Exactly two hundred years since it was first heard, it was a challenge readily taken on by the National Capital Orchestra, Canberra Choral Society and members of the Llewellyn Choir with Louis Sharpe courageously conducting.

Louis Sharpe, conductor

Also performing were soloists Sarah Darnley-Stuart, soprano, Emma Mauch, soprano, Ryan O’Donnell, tenor, and Sitiveni Talei, bass. Dan Walker was the Chorus Master.

Soloists from left: Sarah Darnley-Stuart, Emma Mauch, Ryan O'Donnell and Sitiveni Talei

From the opening Kyrie, the performers sang and played confidently, giving an engaging and energetic performance that continued at a high standard throughout this lengthy work.

The Gloria that followed was especially dynamic and the many voices blended with the orchestra to produce a moving and often quite thrilling sound. They excelled themselves with Et vitam venturi, the famously difficult end of the Credo.

After interval, the playing and singing of the Sanctus was sensitively done and, in the Benedictus, first violinist, Thayer Preece Parker, played the high solo part so movingly, it was one of the highlights of the performance.

Thayer Preece Parker, first violinist

Although they sang very well throughout the work, the Agnus Dei gave the soloists their main opportunity to shine. Their unique voices rang out superbly, blending well with each other. The performance of this final section of the work was particularly moving with its plea for peace very clear.

This was a performance that everyone involved should be proud of. They were given well-deserved, lengthy applause at the conclusion of this outstanding concert.


Photos by Peter Hislop

This review was first published by Canberra CityNews digital edition on 7 July 2024.

Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at


Saturday, July 6, 2024

Kooragang Island & Ngulagambilanha (“On Returning”)

Brian Rope | Mixed Media & Photography

Kooragang Island & Ngulagambilanha (“On Returning”) | James Rhodes & Jessika Spencer

Photo Access | 4 July – 3 August 2024

These two new exhibitions at Photo Access are very different but share something significant. In his Kooragang Island show artist James Rhodes challenges traditional representations of that island’s landscapes, on unceded lands of the Awabakal and Worimi peoples, and invites us to appreciate and respect the delicate balance of its remarkable wetlands’ environment. In Ngulagambilanha, Wiradjuri artist Jessika Spencer intimately shares details of Aboriginal cultural practices and, through them, explores her cultural identity.

Through her varied art forms, Spencer explores her cultural identity. She does this via photography, poetry, writing, activism and both contemporary and traditional weaving. She is a qualified photographer with years of experience in creating visual imagery, collaborating with her local community, and travelling for her artistic work. Here she shares with us her photography and some fibre art pieces. The imagery shows us moments of cultural practices such as ceremonies, weaving and gathering. The photos are straightforward, colourful and pleasing to look at.

An image showing an Aboriginal scarred tree healing in Wiradjuri Country is most pleasing because of the qualities of the light in the area of bushland.

Healing, Wiradjuri Country, 2023, inkjet print © Jessika Spencer

Another shot shows the hands of an Aboriginal matriarch wearing clothing displaying the well-known Aboriginal symbol and holding gathered lemon myrtle.

Matriarch Aunty Helen, Gathering Lemon Myrtle Gumbaynggir Country, 2024, inkjet print © Jessika Spencer

The artist’s two sculptural pieces use contemporary weaving techniques employed by Aboriginal people and are also most pleasing to the eye. One of her phots also shows a piece of weaving.

Ngurra Wall Hanging, NgunnawalNgambri Country, 2023 © Jessika Spencer

For Spencer, being an Aboriginal woman, culture and art go hand in hand. This exhibition reveals something of that to us.

Multidisciplinary artist Rhodes is known for his photomedia, painting and sculpture. In 2022, Rhodes earned a PhD, the subject of which was the meaning of materiality in photographic practice. Currently, he is a lecturer in Photography at The University of Newcastle.

In this exhibition Rhodes combines abstract photography, hand-coloured prints and projection to reveal something of his perception of the world around him. From a distance as I walked into the gallery at Canberra’s centre for photography, film, video, and media arts I wondered where the photography was, but as I moved closer to the first works I saw that the underlying images in them were photographs. Questions I then heard others asking included why are there red crosses over the pictures? Why are they framed with aluminium foil? Why are there differently sized white borders on most of the works, sometimes not on all sides of the pieces?

Speaking with the artist as we stood alongside one of the works ensured I gained some understanding. Photographers who worked with film back in the day very probably marked up their proof sheets for printing with hand-applied coloured grease pencil lines, thus creating a lasting reference. So, Rhodes is incorporating subtle symbols and ambiguous motifs into his works. The use of aluminium foil is an artful reference to the clearing, draining, filling and dredging that significantly impacted the island landscape. His blank white spaces are intended to make us aware of the adjacent areas we cannot see.

The artist’s photos have been overpainted, but they clearly are there. Belle Beasley’s room sheet essay elaborates and is well worth reading after viewing the exhibition – or whilst you are there if you need assistance to interpret the artist’s messages.

Wet Toes, 2024, oil paint and silver gelatin on board with Aluminium © James Rhodes 

Stationary, 2024, oil paint and silver gelatin on board with Aluminium © James Rhodes 

A Slow Evening, 2023, inkjet print -  © James Rhodes

The good news is that the Kooragang Wetlands have progressively been very much restored, redressing the loss of fisheries, shorebirds, threatened species and other wildlife habitat in the Hunter Estuary due to clearing, draining and filling over the past 200 years.

This review is also available on the author's blog here.

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

2024 National Photographic Portrait Prize

Exhibition Review: Photography | Brian Rope

2024 National Photographic Portrait Prize | Various Artists

National Portrait Gallery, Canberra | 22 June – 13 October 2024 

The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) website says the works by the 34 selected finalists in the National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP) this year provide a powerful visual record of the year, reflecting a particular time in Australian culture.

The selected winning work is Alexis with moon, 2024 by Amos Gebhardt and is a diptych – on the left we see something of the moon, on the right is author Alexis Wright. The judges “were taken by the sparse, yet powerful relationship created between the moon, the subject and the camera.” They said, "Wright is a noted First Nations author whose work collapses linear time and connects to ideas of the cosmos, and Gebhardt’s portrait, lit only by the moon, speaks directly to the sitter’s work."

Alexis with moon 2024 © Amos Gebhardt

Unsurprisingly, some think a different finalist should have been chosen, some don’t like, or don’t understand, it. I do like the work and am quite content with its selection. Along with numerous others, it illustrates how approaches have substantially changed over the years.

Whilst most of the exhibited works are pigment photographic prints on paper, one of them is in a kiln cast glass frame and another is from Polaroid Type 665 film. One work is a cyanotype, two are prints of original wet plate collodion process tintypes. There is a type C print and a digital type C print. Also there is a dye sublimation print on aluminium, and a UV print on glass, hand-cut glass, silicone on aluminium.

There are five Canberra and region finalists. Zoe Helene Karouzos has Mikayla with her brothers 2023 - a casual portrait of four tired siblings. Karouzos is an Australian/Greek photographer working on Ngunnawal/Ngambri Country in Kamberri/Canberra. Her work explores the intricacies and importance of interpersonal relationships, genealogy and our emotional connection to ancestors.

Mikayla with her brothers 2023 © Zoe Helene Karouzos

Prue Hazelgrove’s She 2023 is one of the original wet plate collodion process tintypes. Hazelgrove is a queer artist based on Ngunnawal/Ngambri Country in Gundaroo, who specialises in that process, using it to represent stories erased from conventional narratives, asking viewers to consider their biases and beliefs. This and other works in the exhibition certainly do require viewers to think about their beliefs.

She 2023 © Prue Hazelgrove

Brenda Louise Croft’s Men of High Degree: Jim Everett – puralia meenamatta (clan plangermairreenner, Ben Lomond people, Cape Portland nation, north-east Tasmania) 2023 is the other original wet plate collodion process tintype. Indeed, Hazelgrove was Croft’s technical assistant for this artwork. It is also a powerful portrait and very much the style of work we have come to expect from this artist.

Men of high degree Jim Everett - etc 2023 © Brenda L Croft, Prue Hazelgrove

Tamara Henderson’s work is the one in the kiln cast glass frame, a standout artwork in itself. Green in the Grooves 2023 is a still taken from a 16mm film. In this photographic frame the artist was under a pane of glass and soil was progressively scattered onto the glass. Henderson is an artist based on Ngunnawal/Ngambri Country in Kamberri/Canberra whose work draws attention to the often-unappreciated earth beneath our feet, the grounding of life on this planet.

Green in the Grooves 2023 © Tamara Henderson

Based on Walbunja Country, Dean Cross is an artist and Worimi man through his paternal bloodline. Old growth/New growth 2023 is a powerful in-your-face portrait of his naked wife, made in an old growth forest four days before the birth of their twins.

Old growth/New growth 2023 © Dean Cross

I can’t conclude without mentioning the work on hand-cut glass. Maman Simin 2023 by Ali Tahayori. This final photograph of her grandmother before she died was printed on clear glass, then broken by hand, and reassembled to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The image and the process together have produced a fine artwork.

Maman Simin 2023 © Ali Tahayori

I very much agree that the works on exhibition reflect much of Australians as we are at this time in our history. There are works by and about a range of Australians – young and old, Indigenous, ordinary people, the marginalised, migrants, various gender identities. The subject matter is most interesting and diverse.

This review is also available on the author's blog here.

OPERA GEMS FOR A WINTER'S EVE - National Opera Chorus


Alira Prideaux and Sitveni Talei in "Opera Gems for a Winter's Eve"

Conducted by Louis Sharpe – Associate Artist: Rebecca Simon

Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture. 30th June 2024.

Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

National Opera came up with the perfect diversion for a gloomy wet Canberra Sunday afternoon by presenting an afternoon of rousing opera choruses which drew a capacity audience to the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture.

Neatly turned out, books in hand, 28 members of the chorus worked their way through a demanding selection of opera choruses by composers as varied as Verdi, Donizetti, Mozart, Lehar, Ponchielli and Schubert.

Despite the solemnity of some of the choruses, conductor Louis Sharpe kept the atmosphere buoyant by offering amusing introductions to each of the items, and accompanist Rebecca Simon proved an impressive substitute for an opera orchestra.

The program commenced with a confident rendition by the full chorus of the stirring “D’Immenso Giubilo” from Donizetti’s bel canto opera Lucia di Lammermoor in which Sitiveni Talei impressed with the tenor solo.

Two choruses from rarely heard operas followed. The lovely “Sul Brando La Mano” from Ponchielli’s I Lituani, and “Spuntato” from Verdi’s Don Carlo in which Terry Johnson sang the solo.

Terry Johnson and National Opera's male chorus in "Opera Gems for a Winter's Eve"

National Opera is about to commence rehearsals for its forthcoming production of The Merry Widow, so what better opportunity to preview the production than with a charming rendition of “Vilia”, by Sarah Darnley-Stuart, who will play the role of the widow in its production. Following which Katrina Wiseman and Andrew Barrow led the chorus in the spirited “Libiammo” from Verdi’s La Traviata.

The second half of the program commenced with the finale from Mozart’s Die Zauberflote, followed by the “Shepherd’s Chorus” from Schubert’s Rosamunde and “Rataplan" from Verdi’s La Forza the later featuring soprano Keren Dalzell-Woodlock in sparkling form.

Alira Prideaux had a Cinderella moment during her cheeky duet with Sitivene Talei  who threatened to bring  the house down with their rendition of “Pa-Pa-Pa” from Mozart’s Die Zauberflote, after which everyone regained composure to perform the stirring  “Va Pensiero” from Verdi’s Nabucco.

The program officially ended  with an excellent account of the finale from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, but of course the audience wasn’t going to let the afternoon end without an encore, so with very little encouragement from conductor Sharpe, joined with the chorus for a hearty rendition of the famous “Anvil Chorus”. 

                                                             Images by Dalice Trost.

          This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 1st July 2024.




William Yang's Mardi Gras

Exhibition Review: Photography | Brian Rope

William Yang's Mardi Gras | William Yang

National Library of Australia (NLA) Treasures Gallery | 6 December 2023 – 1 December 2024

One of my prized possessions is a copy of Yang's book China, inscribed simply by his own hand “To Brian, Best Wishes, William Yang, Port Macquarie, 2011”. I had just heard and seen one of his presentations during the Australian Photographic Society’s annual convention in that coastal centre.

Yang is a well-known and renowned Australian performer, filmmaker, artist, and photographer. He began his career shooting fashion, but soon shifted to social documentary. Gay liberation, illegal Sydney warehouse parties, and AIDS-related deaths were all documented by this photographer.

Born in Mareeba, North Queensland, in 1943, Yang was raised in the little village of Dimbulah in the Atherton Tablelands. He got his first camera when he was seventeen but didn't start taking photography seriously until he was a university student. He relocated to Sydney in 1969 with the intention of becoming a playwright, but instead found employment as a freelance photographer covering social events. When his 1977 solo exhibition Sydneyphiles opened at the Australian Centre for Photography, his images received critical acclaim.

That exhibition gave viewers an almost voyeuristic glimpse into the social circles and private lives of people who were rarely seen by the general public, including socialites, fashion designers, actors, directors, artists, and Sydney's gay community. The community at that time was controversial as homosexual behaviour was prohibited. In Australia, pictures of gay life, love, and sex had never been shown so widely. Those who were gay and had their photos taken by the artist ran the risk of losing their jobs or facing rejection from their families.

In 1978, a newly formed Gay Solidarity Group held a protest demonstration followed by a parade celebrating queer pride: the Mardi Gras. Due to illness, Yang missed the first three annual parades whilst convalescing in Queensland. Returning to Sydney in time for the 1981 parade, Yang became a pre-eminent chronicler of Mardi Gras.

More than 250 of Yang’s photographs are held by the NLA. Among them are series relating to artists, writers, actors, celebrities, friends, Chinese Australians, intimate dinners, boisterous parties, and the Mardi Gras. This NLA Collections-in-Focus exhibition, William Yang’s Mardi Gras, displays material from over 20 years of photography documenting the parades. Originally opened late in 2023, the exhibition had to close whilst the venue was being renovated but has now resumed.

The 24 images displayed (all with Yang's trademark handwritten descriptions on them) explore four themes: Protest, Community, Art and Remembrance. What began as a protest event celebrating queer life, also became a community event; an artistic event; an event to remember people of the community lost to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

An image of a fairy makes a statement about the courage of revealing oneself as a gay/queer at that time.

Fairy, Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, 1982. William Yang (National Library of Australia-nla.obj-136859502)

An image of two people lighting a candle effectively and sensitively remembers those who died from AIDS.

“The Last Candle.” AIDS Vigil 1994. 2/10. William Yang (National Library of Australia-nla.obj-136864462)

Morals crusader, Fred Nile, was made fun of in the 1989 parade when a Papier Mâché version of his head on a platter made an appearance. Yang was there to get an image.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and the Head of Fred Nile
1989 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. William Yang
(National Library of Australia-nla.obj-136862227)

Yang was also there in 2009 to capture a simple, but effective, image of a protestor urging people to fight AIDS rather than Iraq where Australia had been involved in armed conflict from 2003.

“Protest.” NSW Mardi Gras. 2009 1/10. William Yang (National Library of Australia-nla.obj-136861261)

After years of documenting the parades, Yang wrote in his monologue Friends of Dorothy I’ve finally figured out what Mardi Gras is. It’s the re-enactment of a ritual. A ritual we have worked out over the years as defining and celebrating a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex culture.

In a review of Yang’s Sydneyphiles Reimagined, at the State Library of New South Wales, Edward Scheer wrote Yang’s photographs …… offer the complete opposite of the selfie. ….. he offers carefully framed and curated portraits. ……. He brings the pictures back into the present moment.

This exhibition reminds us of the importance of Collections held by the NLA and other institutions. The opportunities to see exhibitions of selections from such Collections should be taken by us all if we possibly can do so.

This review is also available on the author's blog here.