September 2010


Tognetti triumphs

Good to see Australian National Treasure Richard Tognetti winning headlines in the UK with a highly laudatory full page feature in the Sunday Telegraph extolling his role as artistic director of the recent Maribor Festival.
Apparently Tognetti’s influence inspired an influx of players and camp followers from the ACO that included “a blistering concert” from the Aussie band. Reviewer John Allison hailed the ACO as “one of the finest chamber orchestras in the world” and said its playing is consistently alive because “its musicians – rather like actors in a repertory theatre company – are always bouncing off each other in a spirit of fun”.
Much more was written in praise of Tognetti’s leadership and playing plus the way he tailored his innovative programme to Maribor’s numerous unique venues.
It’s worth noting the Slovenian city is due to become a European Capital of Culture in 2012 when Tognetti’s next festival is due to take place. A date for the diary indeed.

Late starters

London’s theatregoers would never survive in Melbourne, and especially at the MTC with its notoriously late starts.
West End whingers are complaining about plays that finish after 10.30pm so that they have no time to get home at what they consider is a reasonable hour.
One columnist even declared that “shows that go on until after 10pm are elitist”. His reasoning is that “a late finish essentially precludes people who work and who live out of town, or even at the further reaches of the capital, from going to see them”.
Just try living in the outer reaches of Melbourne, going to an MTC play scheduled for 8pm that starts anything up to 20 minutes late and then meanders on until well after 11pm. Little wonder that most of its luvvies live locally.

A last Last Night

On Saturday, at the Royal Albert Hall, the nationalistic fervour of The Last Night of the Proms ended with thousands of flag-waving Brits singing Rule Britannia under the leadership of a Czech conductor and a soprano from the United States.
Last night, in the Hall for Cornwall, the local version of this hardy annual saw battle hymns sung as the Cornish waved their national flag and rallied against their neighbours across the border in Devon. Patriotism is alive and well in England’s far southwest and the evening was greatly enlivened by this call to arms against traditional foes.
Following the pattern set by the London Prom season finale, the first half of the evening was as close to serious as these occasions ever get with excursions into the classical and operatic realms from Camborne Town Band and singers from Duchy Opera. The band showed why it is regularly among the Britain’s top-ranked performers with a mix of rousing pieces and some delicately fresh arrangements of old favourites.
Polished solo performances from the band’s own ranks and much-travelled soprano Cheryl Brendish (she once sang with the tragically defunct Victorian State Opera) added to the enjoyment. The chorus, however, was sadly underpowered and seemed to have undergone a charisma bypass.
Post-interval we were treated to all the usual Last Night hand-clapping, flag-waving and full-throated singing of the Radetsky March, Jerusalem, Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory. And so we wandered off into the night fully cheered – and ready to do battle against any invading hordes from the north.
Who needs the Albert Hall when the HFC can put on a show like this?

Sullivan swings

A numb bum, a leg so crammed in it went to sleep even before the show began and a chilling wind blowing in off the Atlantic are hardly the best recipe for theatrical enjoyment, even on a sunny autumn evening. Thus it was for a performance of Hot Mikado at the uniquely set Minack Theatre, carved out of the cliffs at Porthcurno, six miles from Lands End.
The show, based on the skeletal remains of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera, purports to be a modern rendition of the G&S classic. In reality it is an excuse to string together a succession of high-energy musical numbers linking a story line with its feet inexplicably firmly planted in the Bronx rather than anywhere within cooee of the Orient.
It was reminiscent of listening to one’s scratchy old Glenn Miller LPs rather than anything ever heard at the Savoy Opera; much more Guys and Dolls than G and S. It was a rollicking swing era romp with touches of Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holliday and even Stubby Kaye.
Truro Amateur Operatic Society deserve full credit for its lively ensemble work with the chorus mostly in step and some lusty singing from some of the lead players. But just what the link was between the most English of musical creations and this twangy American celebration right out of Brooklyn was perplexing throughout.
Why not simply bill it as a swinging affair (shades of early Sinatra) and forget the Lord High Executioner and his shady mates?
A hot Mikado? Not in these chilly settings. And the over-arching question remains … why?

An old faithful

The corn is still as “high as an elephant’s eye” and may even be getting cornier as time rolls by, but Oklahoma keeps on rolling across stages around the world and last week bumped into the Hall for Cornwall for a short but energetic stay.
It was like greeting an old friend and it seemed most of the audience felt the same with feet tapping and fingers drumming as the cast launched into one timeless favourite after another. Few among us would have been seeing the show for the first, or even second, time.
The format was similar to that used by the Production Company in Melbourne – small cast, a basic one-scene-fits-all set and only one scene change in order to thrust poor old Jud Fry’s smokehouse into the limelight.
The cast was similar, too, in that touring shows like this provide work experience and a rung on the showbiz ladder for the up and comers. And so we got a high energy show from a bunch of multi-skilled and talented youngsters (some of them fresh out of drama school) who looked as if they were enjoying themselves every bit as much as the audience.
A couple of old-timers in Marti Webb and Pete Gallagher added stability and balance, helping to smooth over a few rough edges.
An oldie but a goody with the orchestra just about winning the race to the final joyful note.

Turnip topsy turvy

OK, so now we can’t call port port, sherry sherry or champagne champagne thanks to the jingoistic bureacrats in Europe.
But if you think that’s a sad commentary on highly-paid people with too much power backed by too little common sense, shed a tear (sad or humourous) for the very confused people of Cornwall.
Here, in the land of the pasty, they are now reeling under a European Commission ruling that a swede is actually a turnip.
The EC has rightly decreed that the only ingredients permitted in a true Cornish pasty are minced or diced beef, sliced potato, onion and swede.
However, they have also cottoned on to the bizarre notion (which no one here can verify) that the Cornish actually refer to a swede as a turnip. Hence the worthy bureaucrats of Brussels have added the rider that a Cornish pasty must not only contain swede but also that it can be said to contain turnip.
Which is akin to calling a cucumber a zucchini or a chicken a duck. Go figure.