Tag Archives: Diction




Taryn Fiebig (soprano)

Mark Coughlan (piano)

Hale Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn


If William Walton’s song cycle A Song for the Lord Mayor’s Table had been the only work on the program presented by Taryn Fiebig and Mark Coughlan, it would have been an altogether satisfying evening.


Had the shade of the composer hovered over proceedings at Hale Auditorium, it would surely have nodded approval at the performance of his song cycle.


From first note to last, this was a reading to savour with its complete identification with the score by  both musicians. The words were sung with a very real understanding of style – and the piano part could hardly have been bettered. It was a model of its kind.


Walton’s cycle is fiendishly difficult to bring off in both physical and interpretative terms – but on both counts the two musicians came through with banners flying. It was offered with splendid flair, the high point of the recital, not least for the exhilaration that informed so much of the more extravert songs in the cycle.

  Photo Credit: Steven Godbee



Also on the program were a bracket of lieder by Schubert as well as Samuel Barber’s Knoxville Summer of 1915. The latter was less persuasive due primarily to some less than clear diction. It lacked the fine focus that made the Walton cycle so satisfying. And of the Schubert bracket, it was Die Manner sind mechant (in which a young woman complains to her mother about her boyfriend’s roving eye) that came across best; it was a miniature delight.


Unintentionally, Taryn Fiebig has joined the ranks of that small group of artists who perform bare feet. Like the extraordinary flamenco dancer La Chunga and Rumanian violinist extraordinaire Patricia Kopachinskaja, Fiebig came on stage sans footwear which, she explained, was the unwanted outcome of playing with her pet dog. This resulted in a fall and broken toes which precluded the use of footwear.

English Eccentrics: an Operatic Entertainment (Malcolm Williamson)


Libretto: Geoffrey Dunn, based on the book by Edith Sitwell



WAAPA classical, vocal and music students



Roundhouse Theatre, WAAPA

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Few English writers have been as astute and convincing in writing about eccentricity as the remarkable Edith Sitwell whose own oddness certainly qualified her for the role.


Perhaps because she herself lived so improbable a life, her chronicles of absurd behaviour have the ring of truth.  And Australian-born Malcolm Williamson, clearly inspired by Sitwell’s catalogue of the bizarre behaviour of others, wrote a score that splendidly complements Geoffrey Dunn’s libretto based on the Sitwell book..


In a work such as this, the text is pivotal to an appreciation of the opera. Absolute clarity of pronunciation is crucial in a libretto beautifully constructed to introduce the opera-goer to an extraordinary pageant of very strange people who range from the engagingly daft to the barking mad.


The work unfolds with impressively smooth momentum.  On this point, the production scored impressively; there was about the performance a fluency, indeed buoyancy, which made experiencing this work so agreeable. And deployment of often large numbers of performers onstage at any one time – with players descending a staircase here or processing or recessing between  stage and foyer  there –  made this production a fascinating way to pass an afternoon.


But diction was often unclear – and in a work such as this where distinct articulation  of words is of pivotal importance, this was an irritating, indeed maddening, drawback. Perhaps this could have been avoided by flashing the texts onto screens at opposite sides of the stage as is often done when operas are sung in foreign languages.


Some of the singers, though, sang with impressively clear diction, not least Paul-Anthony Keightly as Philip Thicknesse. This was a delight, with Keightly producing a stream of mellow, finely pitched sound with every word as clearly stated  as one could ever have wished it to be. Matthew Reardon’s diction, too, was beyond reproach – and Elena Perroni was a delightfully over-the-top Princess Caraboo. Clint Strindberg did well as Beau Brummell. But the diction of a vocal quartet, rather like a Greek chorus with crazy hairdos, needed much greater clarity.


Bobbi-Jo’s costume designs were a delight. Eleanor Garnett’s lighting design was consistently effective.


David Wickham presided over events  from the piano,  coaxing splendid responses from his forces and negotiating the often cruelly demanding piano part with unassuming virtuosity.  A small instrumental ensemble was much on its mettle, not least Chris Dragon (clarinet) and Hannah Gladstones (bassios pianooon).





UWA Choral Society




Winthrop Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn


photo Denise Teo

There would have been more than usual interest in a performance by the University of Western Australia Choral Society at the weekend as this was Jangoo Chapkhana’s  debut as director of this long- established choir.


It was an impressive presentation with Handel’s Ode for St Cecilia’s Day memorable for often-splendid choral corporate tone and tempo choices that sounded intuitively right.


 A cornucopia of musical delights included trumpeter Jenny Coleman’s vividly realised contribution in ‘The trumpet’s loud clangour’. And after intermission, Evan Cromie, too, did wonders on the trumpet.


Incidentally, collectors of musical trivia might be interested to know that Handel’s Ode was premiered at a time when England was at war with Spain – and the work’s  many martial flourishes would have stirred the blood of a goodly number of English concertgoers at the time.


Confident attack, well maintained momentum, phrasing of finesse and clarity of diction augur well for a choir that sounds refreshingly alert and revitalised as in ‘From harmony’.


An orchestra led by Daniel Kossov gave us finely managed dotted rhythms and clean lines in the overture and a gracefully stated  Menuetto. Strings, overall, were in excellent fettle.


I liked the tenderness that informed much of ‘The soft complaining flute’ but singing was not always quite on the note here.


There was much that gave listening pleasure, too, in Bach’s Magnificat in D with the choir once again strikingly in form – and evoking what one commentator has so perceptively described as the work’s “unearthly jubilance”. Stewart Smith was beyond reproach at the organ.  


In ‘Suscepit Israel’, vocal soloists Stephanie Gooch, Sarah-Janet Dougiamas and Meredith Wilkie sang to fine effect with Robert Hofmann coming into his own in ‘Quia fecit’. David Woodward brought a supple and musicianly voice to his arias. Earlier, we heard pleasingly idiomatic contributions from recorder players Jordi Corall and Tamara Gries in ‘Eurientes implevit bonis’.


In ‘Fecit potentiam’, singing oscillated between spot-on brilliance and incoherence.


There was also a deeply felt presentation of Bach’s O Jesu Christ, Mein Lebens Licht.


In passing: for the benefit of those concertgoers  – and critics – who make a point of arriving in good time for events such as this, could something be done about latecomers who thoughtlessly walk into the hall mid-aria or chorus, their footsteps on the uncarpeted wooden floor providing a thoroughly unwanted clattering obbligato to Bach and Handel’s best efforts? What is the point of having ushers on duty if they do next to nothing about this maddeningly intrusive practice? 

King Lear





Bell Shakespeare Company



His Majesty’s Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn




As is well known, the perfidy of King Lear’s ghastly daughters Goneril and Regan tips him over the edge into insanity after he abdicates and gives each one half of his kingdom – a very foolish move as becomes apparent later. And Cordelia, who loves Lear in the most genuine sense, is disinherited and meets a terrible end as well.


But there’s probably a case for supposing that Lear had begun to lose his grip on reality before disinheriting Cordelia and giving his kingdom to her appalling sisters. Consider this: is it a rational move to base so pivotal a decision as disposition of a kingdom entirely on the basis of an answer to this question: “Which of you shall we say doth love us most? “


Has Lear been deaf and blind up until that point? Has he over the years not formed a clear view how his daughters relate to him? Not to have done so suggests that there is something very wrong with the old man. And is his reaction to sweet Cordelia’s answer rational? No, it is the act of someone who is losing contact with reality. Dementia, perhaps?  


Nothing so clearly indicates the timeless and universal nature of the predicament Lear finds himself in than Jane Smiley’s Pulitzer prizewinning novel A Thousand Acres which is a modern take on the Lear story, set not in early Britain but a 20th-century farm in rural Iowa,  US A.. Smiley adds a further dimension – the protracted sexual abuse by the father which makes this an even more disturbing tale than the Lear original.


In this 20th anniversary production of  Bell Shakespeare Company, John Bell demonstrated the form that has made him a legend in Australian dramatic circles.

His bearing and diction brought the stamp of authority to every syllable uttered, to every gesture in the eponymous role. It was a model of its kind, the disintegration of Lear’s mind evoked to painful effect.


Lavish laurels to Jane Montgomery Griffiths as Goneril and Rachel Gordon as Regan each of whom comes across strongly as the essence of daughterly ingratitude.


Violence of both word and hand is here in abundance, not least in the hideously cruel blinding of Gloucester (played by Bruce Myles), an instant of horror in which a flash of searing white light and bloodcurdling scream as the horrible deed is done make for stunning theatre.


There are no weak links in the cast; each contributes something of worth to the overall production. I particularly admired the artistry of Peter Carroll as Fool. Step forward, sir, and take a well deserved bow for a first rate contribution. Peter Kowitz, too, as the Earl of Kent, did well.


As an ensemble, the company is impressive in conveying the cumulative power of the play in a way that calls to mind the words of former USA President Woodrow Wilson who, in a quite different context, spoke of  “experiencing history to flashes of lightning”.


As well, I cannot too highly praise the musicianship of Bree van Reyk, percussionist extraordinaire. Discreetly positioned to one side of the stage before a bank of percussion instruments, she employed artistry at a consistently high level with a range of sound effects that did much to enhance the impact of on-stage word and deed.


Nick Schliepers’s discreet lighting design strikingly complements Marion Potts’ direction.


The Bear (William Walton)

Angelique (Jacques Ibert)

Victorian Opera, Melbourne

Ollivier-Philippe Cuneo, conductor

Talya Masels, director

reviewed by Neville Cohn

In the minds of most opera-goers, mention of a double bill of one acters, calls I Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana instantly to mind. Opera Victoria, however, has put on a double bill that might well be completely new to many: William Walton’s The Bear and Jacques Ibert’s Angelique.

In brief, this is the plot of The Bear: A widow (Popova) is in deepest mourning for her  serial adulterer husband. She has become a recluse. Her butler Luka urges her to come out of seclusion. There is a visitor: Smirnov, a debtor who demands immediate payment of a loan to avoid his financial ruin. A fierce argument ensues, with a duel narrowly averted. Improbably, widow and debtor fall in love.

John Bolton Wood and Jessica Aszodi

Lavish laurels to John Bolton Wood who was a frankly marvellous Smirnov. His diction had a level of clarity that critics dream about but seldom encounter in reality, his stage presence a model of its kind.  And his face mirrored a myriad subtle emotions. Jessica Aszodi, too, could hardly be faulted as Popova – and Andrew Collis’ facial expressions and body language were comic inspirations.

Ibert’s Angelique, unlike The Bear, has very much less singing; a good deal of the script is spoken dialogue. A crucial character – Boniface – was to have been played by Samuel Dundas but illness compelled withdrawal. So, at very short notice, the role was taken over by not one player but two – James Payne and Adam Murphy.

Payne, clad entirely in black, stepped onstage from the wings to sing his lines and then silently withdrew. Adam Murphy, though, tackling the spoken word with a script gripped tightly in the hand, (there was no time to memorise it) brought the house down again and again. I cannot praise his characterisation too highly; I savoured its every ridiculous moment. As the hapless husband of a woman who is the ultimate harridan, physically violent and verbally abusive, his frantic desire to get her off his hands was a comic delight. For much of the time, Murphy had the audience in stitches of laughter.

Theresa Borg gave a bravura performance as Angelique. And no less satisfying a characterisation is that of Charlot by Gary Rowley. As the marriage broker trying to offload his dangerous client onto some unsuspecting victim, he rose to comic heights. No fewer than four husbands would return her in short order:

A capacity audience fell about as a weirdly garbed pageant of gentlemen proposed marriage to a human hand grenade.

Benjamin Namdarian was hilarious as The Italian, nursing a broken leg courtesy of the charmless Angelique; Paul Biencourt was a no less funny as a concussed Englishman – and Pelham Andrews, sporting a turban like some monstrous white onion, brought the house down as the King of Bambaras.. Even the Devil (Jacob Caine), in a demonic outfit, returned the goods complaining that Hell had been turned upside down by the appalling, vomitous Angelique.

Director Talya Masel’s directorial touch was everywhere apparent: an arm gesture here, an inclination of a head there, a sudden sideway glance; it added up to theatrical magic and I savoured every second of it. Certainly, the whole of this carefully considered production was significantly greater than the sum of its constituent parts.

This was an evening of utterly diverting silliness that would surely have melted the heart of the most curmudgeonly of opera goers.

Ollivier-Philippe Cuneo presided over events to excellent effect, extracting a consistently stylish response from his players both on stage and in the pit.

Harriet Oxley’s costume designs for Angelique were wondrously over the top.

This double bill had the stamp of distinction. It thoroughly deserves a long run and full houses. Bravo!