The splendid acoustic of the City Recital Hall at Angel Place, Sydney, resonated with great clarity on Thursday night for the opening of Pinchgut Opera’s stunning latest triumph Cavalli’s Il Giasone.
From the moment those sexy strapping sailor boys (aka Argonauts) surrounding our hero of all the seas, the swaggering handsome Jason of mythological fame, swept that cheeky guy who sings high Australian born countertenor David Hansen onto the stage in a precious pink bathtub full of bubble bath, wearing nothing at all really but his heroes plumed helmet, we all knew we were in for something special. They thought the pink bath towel would hide his personality, but it was bounteously revealed as promised, for all to see.
David Hansen was heading up a fine ensemble of singers of outstanding ability; Celeste Lazarenko as Medea, Miriam Allan as Isifile, Andrew Goodwin as Egeo, Christopher Saunders as Demo, Adrian McEniery as Delfa, David Greco as Oreste, Nicholas Dinopolous as Ercole/Basso and Alexandra Oomens as Alinda
Pinchgut Opera’s Giasone was magical musical melody exploited by the human voice, in a powerful performance of sensuous beauty and soaring vitality.
To have a sterling cast of superb singers brought together to inspire each other and to thrill the audience to the extent they did on opening night, shows not only the depth and genius of our talented music heroes, but also of their often-unsung colleagues we have in this country.
They produced such sweet sounds of music they made your heart sing and ache simultaneously with the sheer joy of it all. They also empowered your mind to marvel wondrously at the depth and diversity of their styles and the brilliance of each and every one of their very special delivery skills.
I was thinking to myself that if only France’s Sun King King Louis XIV had been there to hear the cheeky guy who sings high countertenor David Hansen, he would have awarded him the illustrious French Order of the Golden Fleece, which was in reality a sensational neckpiece once used to show off the mighty French Blue diamond, a blue mystery fragment plucked from the midnight sky to dazzle all those at court.
A dazzling diamond in the crown would be a wonderful metaphor for David Hansen, a young man of quite simply amazing talents. He is surely blessed with one of the most versatile, thrilling and gleaming voices yet heard on the international music scene in the 21st century in his genre.
His ability to soar to high notes with such ease was amazing to watch and listen to.
David Hansen commanded the stage in all the moments he was on it, not only through the sheer brilliance of his sound, but also because of that often indefinable quality he possesses in abundance, which for lack of a better description, we will call his star quality.
It’s about the dynamism of his personality, his passion for performance and total admiration for and of his fellow performers. Then there is his ready willingness to take personal risks on many different levels, in order that he can deliver not only the best result for the audience and those who have pinned their faith and hope on his abilities, but also most importantly for himself.
Surely the most important Italian composer of the mid-17th century in Europe, Francesco Cavalli presented a composition that allowed David Hansen to show off the full range of his natural countertenor voice, something he doesn’t’ get to do often.
And how extraordinary a voice it is. Afterwards I learned about the sense of gratitude he was feeling for the composer as he sang.
Chas Rader-Shieber made certain the contemporary set looked amazing and the costumes and lighting were quite wonderful.
Erin Helyard conducted with great brilliance. He certainly brought the Orchestra of the Antipodes, all musicians of amazing dexterity, to an all time pinnacle of performance as they played Italian composer Francesco Cavalli’s magical score.
There could have been no doubt left in anyone’s mind that Cavalli was certainly not only a genius of his own time, but a man who left a legacy of music we should celebrate more often.
As we discussed later in the evening Elizabeth Neilsen, one of the founders of Pinchgut Opera and I could not believe not one member of the audience coughed, cleared their throat of even made a sound throughout the whole of the performance.
You could have easily heard a pin drop.
It was as if they were as all just as mesmerized as we were, by what was happening on stage that they took a collective breath and didn’t let it go all evening in case they spoiled any of the numerous thrilling moments.
If anyone ever wanted to know what makes classical music so compelling for audiences who love it and embrace it, the opening night of Giasone would have been the perfect platform to stand on and gain an understanding why,
Its sounds were a compelling rhythmic pulse to daily life, especially when the singers and musicians become fine artisans and craftsmen working in tune with each other.
Hansen and his colleagues were like rock gods, passionate, full of purpose, as they presented the most frequently performed opera of the 17th century.
Why was that so? Quite simply because the public loved it! And while a great deal has changed since that time, our basic humanity and love of music and beauty hasn’t.
It is certainly about the notes and the way they are arranged, but it is also so much more.
It is all about the pleasure felt at the phrasing, the sweetness of the harmonies, the strength as an opposite of the softness, the light and the shade and the simply spellbinding voices that caressed the notes and turned them into so much more.
Music of such renowned excellence as the Pinchgut Opera produces offers a sound that connects with the human soul to soothe, to motivate and lift it up to a place of grace and contemplation.
The soul of Cavalli’s era is consummated in marvellous music that reveals all by its purity. It reflects all that was good about life, especially an awakening love of nature, and it swept all before it.
Celeste Lazarenko’s Medea had great purity and she sang with a clarity that was touching, tuneful and ever so thrilling.
There was a minute or two in a final aria being sung by Inisfile, the spellbinding Miriam Allen, that you could have believed you were alone riding on a cloud of a sound that was so ethereal and beautiful it made you ache all over.
She attained such a state of grace, one in which the sweet sound and gentleness of her voice was so achingly lovely that you could feel the tears well up and begin to softly flow involuntarily down your cheeks with joy.
The tenor Andrew Goodwin, who sang the role of Egeo, has a truly lovely voice. He left you in no doubt as to why he has garnered so many fans since he first quested for love as Orpheus in the Pinchgut Opera’s production of Joseph Haydn’s l’Anima del Filosofo; Orpheus and Eurydice in December 2010.
They will keep continue to queuing up for more.
Christopher Saunders as Demo, left you hungering to hear more as did Adrian McEneiry as Delfa, David Greco as Oreste and Nicholas Dinopolous as Ercole/Basso. Their character impersonations were funny, witty, brave, courageous and allowed us to empathize with them all.
The tiny, but mighty Alexandra Oomens was all sheer delight. A third year conservatorium student with a big beautiful voice, lots of self assurance, a perky almost cheeky presentation and bags of style there is no doubt either that she will go far.
I loved every minute of my Pinchgut Opera December 2013 experience, as did a dear friend from New Zealand who happened to be in town on business and able to stay and share a truly special night. It was a birthday treat for me that was more than the icing and the candle on any cake could ever be. And now it is a treasured memory.
Becoming a great opera star on the vastness of world stage as well as a bright star in the gleaming firmament of glorious music is no mean feat.
It is also a career you have to ‘live’ for much of your life.
Learning to balance it and have quality time with the people you love is more than difficult and for me it was indeed wonderful to see and meet so many of the performers family members who were there in full force.
All their children certainly made them proud.
David Hansen is the consummate professional and surrounded by family friends, fans and followers all quite literally cheering him on, he and his colleagues put on quite a show, one that should have us all joyously singing in our bathtubs for evermore.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2013