Tag Archives: Jane Davidson

Orpheus in the Underworld (Offenbach)

Jane Davidson

Jane Davidson

Daniel Sinfield



Dolphin Theatre



reviewed by Neville Cohn





Half a loaf is better than none, as the old saw goes. And experiencing Offenbach’s zany Orpheus in the Underworld to an accompaniment not by orchestra but a single piano might not have been ideal – but it was certainly better than nothing in this part of the world where Offenbach’s work seldom gets the exposure it warrants.


With the lightest of directorial touches, Jane Davidson brought this comic opera to sparkling life. Certainly, her young charges seemed positively to relish coming to grips with this much vaunted although seldom mounted work locally.


It was an inspiration to use an English version of the libretto by Jonathan Biggins, Phil Scott and Ignatius Jones. With its many witty Oz allusions, it prompted gales of laughter from a capacity audience.


Kathleen How as Public Opinion, dressed up as Moonee Ponds’ most distinguished representative, brought the house down again and again. Here was a Dame Edna Everage clone at her most vivacious and effervescent with her mauve-pink hair do, trademark bunch of fake gladioli and those unforgettably tasteful spectacles, all ensuring the laughter level was high.


On the debit side were a number of singers whose pitch was not quite spot-on but, time and again, the sheer vivacity with which they tackled their roles went quite some way as compensation. And this cheerful energy, not least in the galop finale, ensured a constant chuckle level. And allusions to that most recognisable of Gluck melodies – Che faro senza Euridice – were consistently musical.


Laurels to Daniel Sinfield who seemed positively to revel in the role of  Pluto disguised, not, as in Offenbach’s original as a shepherd cum beekeeper but as a black-clad tough on a motorbike, singing and strutting about the stage as if it was his natural milieu. His diction was first rate.


In a smaller role, Dudley Allitt was altogether convincing as the Hades-based, creepy John Styx. With a sepulchral pallor and his hands unctuously clasping and unclasping, he did Offenbach proud – not least for absolutely first rate diction, an object lesson on how to project speech impeccably.   


A thousand flowers, as the Chinese say, to Juliet Faulkner who breathed life into a piano reduction of the orchestral score. Surely, she deserved better than being labelled in the printed program solely as repetiteur. The latter would certainly apply to her work as rehearsal pianist – but on stage, she was a pivotal participant in the production.


Standing to one side of the stage close to the piano while giving discreet cues to the cast was music director Francis Greep.


Décor was basic but effective as was the lighting design by Jake Newby – and the splendid costumes were designed and made by the cast.

Baroque Masterpieces

Stabat Mater (Pergolesi)
Jane Davidson (dir.)

UWA School of Music
Winthrop Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn


In many years of attending concerts at Eastertide, I cannot recall a performance as powerfully communicative as Jane Davidson’s production of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. Her sure feel for what works in theatrical terms brought both music and play into vivid perspective.

Presented in the style of a Passion play, it featured an eleven-strong cast of women, all dressed in drab, russet shades, except for Mary who wore a pale blue sash over her garment. The women sang, often beautifully, the anguish of Cavalry reflected both in facial expression and choreographed movement.

Davidson’s directorial touch, otherwise sure and experienced, wavered briefly towards the close of the work when the corps, dancing ring-a-roses-style around the risen, smiling Christ bordered on the twee in visual terms. Its antithesis was David Jones’ first appearance as Jesus, almost buckling under the weight of the cross as he staggered towards the stage along the hall’s centre aisle in the company of two guards who were made up to appear the apotheosis of brutality and coarseness. And Jesus’ agonies groans as his hands and feet were nailed to the cross was an horrific counterpoint to the accompanying music.

Earlier, we heard Nicole Jordan and Filipa La in stark and sober black as soloists in Monteverdi’s Cantate Domino, their finely sung lines quite overshadowed by aerial artist Theaker von Ziarno who, clad in a white body stocking, made a sensational entrance from an opening in the ceiling, twisting and turning her slow way down two lengths of white cloth which reached to the floor. She returned towards the end of the program as the closing measures of Schutz’s Es steh Gott auf were sung, again by Jordan and La.

Paul Wright led an instrumental ensemble with his usual disciplined artistry although positioning the players to one side of the hall may have been the main factor robbing instrumental sound of some of its bloom. As ever, Stewart Smith was discreet and musicianly at both harpsichord and organ.

In passing: I imagine I’m speaking for many in saying that, having for years endured Winthrop Hall’s uncomfortable seating, the new arrangements are very much a change for the better. Certainly, it will ensure that attending concerts there will be as comfortable for rears as ears.

Copyright 2006 Neville Cohn