Saturday, September 17, 2022

The Soprano: Australian Brandenburg Orchestra With Samuel Mariño

AUSTRALIAN BRANDENBURG ORCHESTRA, presents, THE SOPRANO : Samuel Marino, at Sydney City Recital Hall, in Angel Place. Thursday,1st September. Tuesday, 6th September. Wednesday, 14th September. Friday, 16th September. Saturday, 17th September Matinee at 2.00pm and night, 7.00pm. 

Life is full of plans with "twists and turns' unexpectedly pointing one to adventures that can be either a positive or negative event. Recently, two acquaintances were unable to take up their Subscription Tickets to a concert at the Sydney City Recital Hall in Angel Place, and gave them to another friend who, then, been rebuffed by a 'gentleman caller' asked if I would like to accompany her instead. Indeed, I could. I had no knowledge of the program I was to attend but really chuffed to meet and greet my friend and hear some music with a live orchestra. A special bonus was that the concert featured the Baroque repertoire.

My friend and I sat in the stalls fairly close to the stage - how exciting! I learnt in the pre-concert gossip that we were to hear a male Soprano voice - yes, a MALE SOPRANO voice - curious. We were to hear Samuel Mariño, a 28 year old Venezuelan who began his training at the National Conservatory of Music of Venezuela with piano and voice, where with his extraordinary vocal gift first performed operatic repertoire with the Camerata Barroca in Caracas. This awoke a passion for the baroque repertoire and inspired him to further his studies at the Conservatoire de Paris. Two months ago he released a new CD on Decca Records, and it has sold, already, 3 million copies. Mr Mariño's career has ignited. He has a plan to perform in the coming months in Canada, the USA; and make his UK opera debut at the Glyndebourne Festival as Iris (Semele - Handel, 1744).

The Artistic Director of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Paul Dwyer, had invited Mr Mariño to Australia several years ago but Covid-19 interfered with the planned schedule. Persistence and the confluence of the Musical Gods arranged that fate would allow him to travel, at last, and here he is.

The audience gathered, the orchestra entered, the musicians played, under the spell of an enthusiastic conductor, Mr Dyer, a work by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). During, quietly, Samuel Mariño entered in a spectacular tartan skirt with shirt, jacket and other dressy accoutrements - e.g. a very bright red shoulder bag - as well as fingerless black gloves (leather?) and high, high heels. He was coiffed beautifully, subtly make-uped, with a youth-filled, youthful smile that was as flirtatious as one could be. I'm certain it was I he was flirting with but my companion differed and told me that it was she that he was shining at. I grasped, competitively, that each of us and all of us in the Recital hall were being touched by this flirt.  And then....

Then, he began to sing. 

THEN, he began to sing, sing an aria from Vivaldi: In furore iustissimae irae (translation:in a fury of righteous anger) :

In a fury of righteous anger
You are divinely powerful.
When you can punish me in my guilt
The very crime you bear is merciful. 
Righteous Anger.
Divinely Powerful.

All flagellant sounds making poetic welts, almost indecently, but, in recovery, we observe, not indecently, but with a musical sensitivity that reaches out to our vulnerability that he has given cause to be awakened within us. He held the key to our awestruck presence and turned it on, oh, so quickly and generously. His openness caused us to mirror his sacrifice, and together we revealed our mutual usually shy truths at the command of the music and the sounds of a foreign and ancient language of a long time ago. He awoke us to the music of the spheres -  timeless - to the other worldly, via the pleasure of good/great musicianship of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and their guest, Samuel Marino.

A miraculous soprano sound swept us with a passionate exposure that could only induce in each of us an awe and a joy. We were his surprised slaves. Slaves, so quickly. Surrendering, so quickly. And definitely not looking for mercy, for if this were a punishment: BRING IT ON!

For, as well, the beat of this more than 400 year old music was absorbed by his body, invading him, taking, unequivocally, possession of him, so that it registered in expression as if he were in the centre of the Disco Beat at the greatest dance club in the contemporary world. We learnt from conversation later that Ballet was Mr Mariño's early inclination, and evidently he can move, but fortunately his Doctors on examining his vocal equipment recognised the possibility of a modern phenomenon. The voice, the body and the passionate, controlled dexterity, reveals a great actor bringing the character of his music vividly to life.

Phenomenon, undoubtedly. Samuel Marino, in his youthful time ought not to be missed. And that's whether you are classical music fan or a popular primal music fan. 

He is clearly a humourist. Considering his extraordinary gift, the uniqueness of it, one can imagine the passage of his 'growing up': The pain of the bullying, the prejudices, the aggressive fears which the ordinary has thrown at him. Humour became his way of surviving. For that pain has been turned by this artist into a gift for his audience. The conclusion of the first act in a work by George Frideric Handel (1685-1750): Quella fiamma from opera ARMINIO, Act 2 Scene 8, HWV 36 :

That flame, which ignites in my breast,
nourishes itself in my heart's blood.

May that fire shine so brightly,
that it becomes the fuse that feeds my passion.

And, indeed, the fuse that has (historically) ignited Samuel Marino to feed his passion, bursts onto this platform/stage, so that the furious heat of the lyrics are smelted, counterpointed with a comedy act of almost burlesque greatness as he sings in a fiercely contested musical duel with the Baroque Oboe played by Adam Masters. Each of these artists challenging and lifting the stakes of the encounter. Tit for Tat. Thrilling! The laughter they create together, also, brings tears, that one young man could have so much to give. An unforgettable performance.

It is apparent that Samuel, if I may be so bold is, or,  could be, a handful of brilliant temperament. Fiercely, humorously, his costume changes are a provocation of wonder. Following the full-length tartan 'frock' the second costume is teetering on heels once again, beneath tight white patterned 'stretch' pants, with a sheer, almost see through long sleeved top with a necklace of silver glimmer that has one distracted in moments as to wondering about the body beneath the clothing. Which is answered, perhaps, in the next set of 'vestments' that he dons to close the concert. 

With the extraordinary power and dexterity of his vocalisations he supports it with intelligence and political wit. The courage that Mr Marino required to accept and grow into his gift, the patience he has had to endure the pain, is employed with the sure action of positive intelligence and wit to master all of his obstacles - personal and societal - is a wonder to contemplate. He is a cause for honest wonder and gratitude. A kind of beacon in the darkness of our contemporary life. An artist to celebrate.

Paul Dwyer and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra ought to be congratulated for the recognition and pursuit of this artist at the beginning of his career. One can only hope that he will visit again. He says he has an ambition to sing Lucia. With what his will and training have so far achieved it is a possibility, maybe, a probability. Who would have thought that this might be a possible path for such an artist - a Male Soprano? Not too many years ago, Samuel Marino may have been seen on a stage as a sensation in an underground cabaret. Today, in 2022, he stands on major concert platforms around the world and may be seen on the major opera stages around the world creating with the same passions Verdi's great and tragic hero: Lucia de Lammermoor.

I wept with awe and jealousy a great deal of the night at the gifts that Samuel Marino gave me, us. I wished that I had had them. Even one eighth of his courage to begin with. Not since the Audra McDonald Concert a few years ago have I been so emotionally breached.

The gift that my friends gave me is an instance of wonder, of chance, and provokes in me once again a comprehension as to why life is worth living. I can not thank them enough.

If you could go. I would. If not just check Youtube or Google to see what you missed. A little OTP, Kevin? No one iota, I promise.

P.S. Thanks, Richard, John, (Terry) and Maggie.

Photograph 51

Photo by Teniola Komolafe

Ensemble Theatre presents PHOTOGRAPH 51, by Anna Ziegler, at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli. 13th September - 8th October.

PHOTOGRAPH 51, is an American play by Anna Ziegler (2008). It is a one act work of about 90 minutes length and it focuses on a remarkable scientist Dr Rosalind Franklin (Amber McMahon), leading a team of male comrades in the investigation into the "secret of life" using x-ray crystallography to reveal the atomic structure of DNA - the famed Double Helix.

This discovery happened in 1951 in the King's College laboratory in the city of London which was still recovering from the collateral destruction of that city via the second World War. This discovery won the Nobel Prize of 1962 for three of the male collaborators. Doctor Rosalind Franklin had been forgotten, relatively, and probably, because she had died in 1958, at the age of 37 of ovarian cancer, which may have been contracted during her research developments. This play attempts to bring this woman into the light - to tell HERSTORY rather than history alone.

It may have been her manner : 

As a girl I prided myself on always being right. Because I was always right, I drove my family near mad by relentlessly proposing games to play that I'd win every time [...] And when I was at University, and it was becoming clear to my parents, as it always had been for me that I would pursue science, I left Cambridge to meet my father for a hiking weekend. And atop a mountain in the Lake District, when I was eighteen years old he said to me, "Rosalind, if you go forward with this life ... you must never be wrong. 

And in her lifetime behaviour she believed she never was - and this was an irksome trait for a woman (and especially a Jew) to have in the British halls of science in the 1950's.

Reports of her brilliant research work in Paris caused an invitation for her to join a team of fellow scientists in London, working in the same territory of investigation, only to discover that she was invited not as the leader of the research but as just one of a team. Considering the contextual. social and political mores of the period she experienced outrageous chauvinism, misogyny and 'casual' sentiments that amounted to anti-semitism. This was not news to her and because of a lifetime of negative experience she had donned a personal defence mechanism (armour) that courted no such permission for it to be seen and heard and she shame-faced her fellow scientists to respect her and to do as she suggested. Her manner was a shock and caused her to be declared, steely, demanding and cold - not to be trifled with.

The science in this play is handled by Ms Ziegler so that it never becomes an issue or a reason to not to attend. Be not afraid, it is handled with a simple clarity that is never condescending but often full of comprehensible humour. In a dramaturgical structure that unravels with interactive engagements between the characters and, as well, as a fourth wall breakdown where each of the characters narrate, explain, comment straight to us, the audience. it is a disarming and clever range of choice in the otherwise complicated landscape of the play.

The 'objective' coolness of the behaviour of the scientists in the competitive, passionate pursuit of the step-by-step advancement of research and experimentation is lightly handled, it has no heavy burden of didactic detail or explanation. It has, instead, a lucidity and a 'joyful' feel in the pursuit to prove that there is a Double Helix of DNA - the secret of life - proved in a photographic image taken by the laboratory assistant, the humorous Ray Gosling (Gareth Yuen) : the famous Photograph 51.

As well, throughout the play of the scientific interactions there is a subtle reveal of the 'subjective' obstacles, behavioural quirks of each of the scientists that gives another dimension to the pursuit of the 'meaning of life' : the breakdown of marriage and personal relationships and struggles of doubt, or of the love that our driven heroine has for nature that is the flora and fauna, the rise and setting of the sun, as seen on a hiking trip to mountain tops, or in a theatre watching actors in the guise of being Leontes and Hermione, bring Shakespeare's THE WINTER'S TALE to life, presenting us with another 'double helix' - the double helix of the scientist's joy and the simplicity of each humane individual who are part of a species that consciously pursues meaning in just enduring the length of our lives. This play by Anna Ziegler has a creeping reveal that brings an observational and experiential warmth to take home : The complications of understanding the biological key to the formation of life - the first helix - and in the just living our lives - the second helix. The double helix of the objective approach and the subjective one. The 'thinking' one and the 'feeling' one.

The characters are carefully brought to life by this team of actors with great joyful accuracy in the crisp, astringent verbal comedy of each: Garth Holcombe creating Maurice Wilkins, the old fashioned stiff-upper-lipped English scientist boffin, attempting to move in the new post-war world where the old 'ways' are been harassed and superseded. The telling of the witnessing of THE WINTER'S TALE at the same performance that Doctor Franklin attended is moving in all the repeated restraint and unacted-upon passion that the two sexes have in the famously painful David Lean film, BRIEF ENCOUNTER, by Noel Coward. The clumsy confession of this experience by Wilkins is agonising in its telling - it is, we all know, too late.

Gareth Yuen playing Ray Gosling, the laboratory assistant, is delightfully nimble, utterly charming in his verbal comic timing as the 'gofer' for this team of demanding scientists - not least Doctor Franklin, herself. No burden is too much! No temper is revealed. Good will shines in this man.

The double act of the young American scientist, James Watson, inhabited as a juvenile patriarchal 'pig' with a skull of remarkable hair, by Toby Blome, in the most light hearted manner, alongside Robert Jago, as Francis Crick, a curiously mischievous observer of the 'manners' of Doctor Franklin, who, he believes, needs to be brought down from off her perch, create both cruel, stealthy and yet gradually human specimens of humanity - foolish and yet oddly, innocent, as a trait of male myopia domination.

Whilst, on the other hand, the gentle and love struck American scientist, Don Caspar, made by Jake Speer, has the beautiful arc of the 'husband-who-might-have been' if illness had not intervened. Mr Speer's warmth made us feel the sadness of Casper's loss before it could be declared fully in action.

Amber MacMahon is externally steely and defensive, and yet alerts us to the depth of this woman in her winning, comic verbal 'battles' for survival in this masculine room, and by employing the subtle and swift flashes of character vulnerability that unless you have been attentive you may have missed. It is the most intricate and disciplined performance that shows an actor of great insight with a 'tool box' of skills to pull it off.

Directed surely, helming this team of artists, is Anna Lednvich, on a Set Design that creates a comfortable (and practical) world of abstracted scientific apparatus and in a Costume Design of studied character detail, by Emma Vine, supported by the Music and sound design of Jessica Dunn, and the ever reliable lighting by Ensemble regular, Trudy Dalgleish.

PHOTOGRAPH 51, is the best theatre I have seen for ages. The talents and skills of all the artists serve the Writer well and the Audience spectacularly. Do go. It is a terrific night in the theatre and culturally, a great relief in the overwhelming mediocrity that one so often spends one's money on and, unfortunately, wastes one's time with in Sydney.

P.S. It was so stimulating to attend the National Theatre Broadcast last weekend of the Bridge Theatre production of David Hare's latest play STRAIGHT LINE CRAZY. It was not a perfect night in the cinema (theatre) but, by gosh it provoked a stimulating discussion afterwards. There was much to criticise and much to admire, that made that experience a wealthy time gained. Unlike most of the Sydney work, where one wants to flee quickly home, to that book or series to binge. What was there to discuss? 

Friday, September 2, 2022

Six, The Musical (2022)

Photo by James D Morgan, Getty Images

SIX, The Musical. Book, Lyrics and Music by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, at the Theatre Royal, Sydney. Originally Produced by Kenny Wax, Wendy & Andy Barnes, and George Stiles. Produced in Australia by Louise Withers, Michael Coppe, and Linda Berwick. 26th August-1st October, 2022.

SIX The Musical is back.

I first saw it in February, 2019, a few years ago (review here), in the Studio at the Sydney Opera House. It has, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, survived the battering and postponements of cancellations of performances to bounce back here in Sydney and to some of the rest of Australia. It has swept back into the West End in London and all round the UK and onto New York, Broadway, where it won two Tony Awards for Best Original Score (Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss) and Best Costume Design (Gabriella Slade). 4 Drama Desk Awards and three Outer Critics Circle Awards including Outstanding New Musical.

SIX, The Musical has book, lyrics and music by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss. It is Directed by Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage and choreographed by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille. Set Design is by Emma Bailey, Costume Design is by Gabrielle Slade, Lighting Design by Tim Deiling and Sound Design is by Paul Gatehouse. The Orchestrator is Tom Curranad Musical Supervisor is Joe Beighton.

Last night at the Theatre Royal an excited audience, some dressed in costume, some in cutting edge fashion, the rest of us in 'daggy' support, witnessed an audience cheer and shout throughout the performance of SIX, giving evidence that the theatre is not dead, it is alive to the contemporary pulse of the young, swept to a roaring thanks and noisy standing ovation and encore as the final explosion of gold 'rain' fell into the auditorium. 

Six, The Musical tells the stories of the six wives of the Tudor King Henry VIII. It is told without a man in sight. Henry and all the other men have been expelled, for this is HERstory, not HIStory. Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived.

Six 'glorious' women appear on a contemporary Set design that is a hyper replica of a Pop Concert stage, with all of its attendant Lighting options (tricks!) of flashing and pulsing pay-attention distractions to ensure that we, the audience, are never left to dream-off. This is a 75-minute, no-interval romping race to its end and we are magnificently manipulated to chase what is happening - no sleeping possible. Besides, the Musical Score is inspired by the canon of music divas, such as the likes of Adele, Lily Allen and Ariana Grande. Music that permits the lyrics the aural space, with microphones in hand, to tell of the dilemmas of each woman. Music that is still a bombastic blast that will certainly prevent sleep is directed from the stage in back-up, by Claire Healey with Heidi Maguire, Kathryn Stammers, Debbie Yap and Ann Metry. It is ever present in its support and contribution.

These six women are dressed "to kill" in costumes that are a flashy steam-punk adaption of the historical Tudor look, combined with the contemporary rock concert expectation, merely but wittily, referencing some of the iconic dress of the 16th century Queens. These costumes give room, flexibility, for these "Queens" to be able to fit the relentlessly demanding energetic choreography, that are both ensemble and character compilations, visual clues, to illustrate  the temperament and place of origin of each of these women: the Spanish Queen Catherine of Aragon (Phoenix Jackson Mendoza), the first English Queen Anne Boleyn (Kala Gare), the second English Queen Jane Seymour (Loren Hunter), the German Queen Anne of Cleves (Kiana Daniele), the third English Queen Katherine Howard (Chelsea Dawson), and the last English Queen Catherine Parr (Vidya Makan).

All of the performances seem effortlessly to capture the audience and career it into an ecstatic response. Take the young and know that the theatre experience will become a part of their inheritance. It's look, it's sound, its tongue -in- cheek humour, it's storytelling, it's unflagging energy makes SIX a Ten. Do go.