I haven’t been blogging about all the cultural activities we’ve been enjoying over the past few months, for reasons that I’ll outline in a separate blog. But here is a very brief overview of four great shows that we saw in July and August.
First up, Victorian Opera’s production of A Little Night Music on 3 July. It was at the Playhouse at the Arts Centre which was a nice intimate venue for this piece. I didn’t think the singers needed to be miked which they were. Apparently on the first night there was a problem with the sound which didn’t happen with us. All of the performers were great, especially Ali McGregor as Desirée who was wonderful in VIctorian Opera’s Lorelei in 2018. Her rendition of the classic Send In The Clowns was heartfelt and beautiful; difficult to achieve with such a well-known song. Some people felt that Mat Verevis was too young to be playing Henrik Egerman who is meant to be much older than his wife but I thought he was good in the role despite that difference. The whole thing worked for me. There’s lots of humour balanced against the bathos. Great sets and costumes and terrific set pieces. A review, including pictures of the performance, is here . I also wanted to read the lyrics after the show because even in the best production with the best acoustics its hard to pick up all the words and they are very clever. I found them here.
Next up, indeed the night after, on 4 July we were thrilled to see the famous pianist Lang Lang in concert with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. This was his only concert in Melbourne, at the Arts Centre, lots of Chinese families in the audience including children (who were amazingly well behaved). He played Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24. Some people in the audience were upset he only played one thing – well that and a short encore. What was most remarkable, in addition of course to the virtuoso playing, was his apparent enjoyment of the performance and his very active engagement with the orchestra. He often looked towards different sections indicating appreciation of their playing. His own playing was pretty spectacular with him hunching over the keys and swaying as though he was part of the instrument. He deserves his status as one of the great pianists of all time. We didn’t see this but a friend was nearby and noticed that Lang Lang joined the audience to watch the rest of the concert – unusual for a solo performer, especially one so acclaimed. The MSO went on to play Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 3 which was also a great experience. Rousing music, expertly played. Wonderful. Here’s a review of the concert. And here is a great interview with Lang Lang on Alec Baldwin’s Here’s The Thing podcasts (which I really enjoy). Lang Lang comes across as a very grounded individual. I like how Alec fully engages with his interviewee.
On 27 July we saw the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare in Love. We got our tickets relatively late for what was then the last night after reading rave reviews. The season was later extended. I’m very pleased we got to see it. Despite sitting up in the gods we could see everything which was good as there was plenty of action right from the get go! It was all very faithful to the film – that actually should be reversed – the film was obviously very faithful to the play because it was all very familiar from having seen the film. Replicating scenes that have been filmed – with all the time and resources available to film – within the constraints of a stage production is quite a feat; but it was managed to perfection in this production. Very inventive use of props; for example a bed lowered to the stage from the ceiling and then withdrawn in the same manner. And a useful tower on the side of the stage from which to declaim bits of Romeo and Juliet. All of the actors were terrific. There was much bounding on and off stages and in and out of doors. Everything worked. Costumes, sets and scene changes. There were fight scenes, love scenes and much dressing up fun. Great fun. One left the theatre smiling. Here’s a review. complete with pictures from the show.
On 13 August we actually gave up MIFF in order to see the world’s most famous tenor, Jonas Kaufmann in a concert performance of the opera Andrea Chenier. I’m glad we did, as he was as good as anticipated. I like concert performances of operas. Concentrating on the singing without all the accoutrements of costumes and staging really focusses attention on the music. Having singers able to convey what’s happening without having to act it out, can bring to the fore the emotional backbone of the story. And this was the case here. Reading the libretto you wonder how these characters can go from contempt to love and from hatred to compassion. But these singers were able to manage the complex, changing relationships between the principle characters really well. We were very close to the front from where you could see the immense effort involved in appearing effortless! Kaufmann was powerful and nuanced in turns as Andrea Chénier, the revolutionary poet condemned to the guillotine. The French singer Ludovic Tézier in the role of Carlo Carlo Gérard was also terrific. Many reviews focussed on his performance but really Kaufmann was the standout. Perhaps because he’s always expected to be great, and is, he’s now taken for granted – not really, but that’s how I felt reading some of the reviews. Eva-Maria Westbroek was also wonderful in the role of Chénier’s lover, Maddalena di Coigny. We saw her last year in a concert performance of Die Walkure and she was terrific in that as well. She and Kaufmann have sung these roles often and had terrific chemistry. A wonderful concert, fully deserving of the multiple curtain calls. Here’s a review. He’s not correct in saying it was Eva’s first time in Australia, but it was her first performance with Opera Australia. His reference to the dresses worn by the women reflects my disappointment at the ordinariness of their outfits which you can see in the pictures. I love this picture of Jonas which was included in the programme. Star power indeed.