11 February 2009

Weekend of kulcha

I caught more than just jazz women on the weekend that started the Multicultural Festival in Canberra. Megan and I went Euro-centric to the sublimity of those pure, refined voices of the opera. Not full-bore, hard-core operas, only selections, but interesting enough none-the-less.

The first was Joanna Cole in Puccini’s women, Le donne di Puccini. I recognised some of the tunes, from La Boheme and Suor Angelica and Gianni Schichi, and the encore by the Puccini admirer and supporter, Giuseppe Verdi from La Traviata. The various famed arias were introduced with stories of whores and TB and even Pinkerton (Tally-ho), as seems to be the way in operas of this period. I caught a few words of Italian, but mostly it was a struggle, as is also the way. The opera voice is a refined form, especially for the soprano, with the warbling trills and intense, projected high notes. It’s impressive, but I found these high notes leaving a pretty softly spoken piano way behind. I felt Joanna needed a few dozen strings and some brass to keep up (the balance was better when she sang from the back of the stage). It was still a fabulous performance of accurate intonation and emotive lines and power and thrills on an impressive repertoire. But although it was interesting and impressive, I missed the story, the continuing plot that you can follow even without understanding the words. Not that the plot is so convincing (Italian opera being the romantic thing that it is) but it still holds together and the feature tunes appear in context as they should. Nonetheless, it was impressive and precise and hand on shoulder emotional. Sadly I didn’t take the camera; I missed some dark and dramatic shots.

Joanna Cole (soprano) sang Puccini’s Women with Alan Hicks (piano) at the Street Theatre.

The next night was another opera outing, this time to Stage 88 and the annual Opera by Candlelight. The repertoire was similarly made up of pop classics, there were some more voices and players, although still minimal. It was a big family outing, so a bit of a jaunt with a slightly serious side. There was a raffle for a life-time supply of Maria Callas recordings (70 disk set of the complete works). The weather was initially hot; the beers were cold; the cool change was appreciated. It was fun for all, and went down well. I was in the mood for lightheartedness, so I enjoyed the Major-General’s song from G&S, Pirates of Penzance for its humour. Occasionally the performance or PA was a bit ragged, and the keyboard didn’t quite match an orchestral backing, but the players were just pulled together for the night, it was too, too hot for the formal outfits, and it must have been hard work up there. This was not an intimate event like the previous night’s Puccini, but it was entertaining and there were some very satisfying voices. And who cannot fall for the power of the Anvil chorus or the triumphal march from Aida. Big stuff, big event.

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