Tag Archives: Reproach

La Sonnambula (Bellini)



W.A.Opera Company



His Majesty’s Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn


One of the rewards of working as a music critic over decades is, after identifying and encouraging promising young talent, listening and watching (and hoping, because there is a high dropout rate) as they mature into confident adult musicians. This is very much the case insofar as Rachelle Durkin and Aldo di Toro are concerned.


Both demonstrated very significant potential as students. I recall a young Durkin in a  production of The Magic Flute – and di Toro in a wondrously fine account of a Schumann song cycle. How splendidly they have now come to the fore.


As the romantic leads in La Sonnambula, each is enormously effective in solo arias –  and in duo, their voices blend beautifully.


As the eponymous heroine, Durkin is vocally excellent and dramatically convincing. She has the ability to project her voice effortlessly to the furthest corners of the house;  it is a pure and perfectly pitched stream of sound. And di Toro, as the ardent swain Elvino, who is heartbroken when it seems as if Amina has been unfaithful, was beyond reproach in vocal terms (he seems incapable of an ugly sound). Vocally and histrionically, they are a perfect match.


Other casting was shrewd and effective. In a smaller but pivotal role, Andrew Collis as Count Rodolfo (into whose bedroom Amina innocently wanders in her sleep, triggering a blizzard of malevolent gossip) was well cast. Zoe Kikiros brought an altogether appropriate shrewishness to the role of Lisa, at one time engaged to Elvino.  And David Woodward was a delight as the engagingly dotty, fusspot notary.

Choristers were in fine fettle.


Sleepwalking lies at the heart of Bellini’s masterpiece. It is a crucial factor; too many productions have foundered on this point by having the heroine appear like some eerie, ashen-faced phantom from another dimension with weird lighting and silly make-up. How much more realistic and meaningful was this; it had the stamp of truth. It was this and a voice in fine form – as well as di Toro at his best – that made this production so meaningful.


It was an inspiration on the part of costume designer Richard Roberts to clothe the chorus in grey. It perfectly complemented the austerely Calvinist environment of the Switzerland in which the opera is set. All this struck a perfect note (no pun intended) as did Roberts’ set designs which were most effective in establishing, enhancing and maintaining mood.  


Richard Mills was a reassuring presence in the pit as he took the W.A.Symphony Orchestra through its paces.






Photography by James Rogers


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? 

Waiting for Godot (Beckett)



His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth(Australia)

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Although the prime focus of pre-season publicity and advertising for Waiting for Godot was Sir Ian McKellen, (quite understandable bearing his huge celebrity in mind) it would be fair to say that on-stage honours were shared equally by the four main players. Indeed, having experienced a number of productions of Beckett’s masterpiece, each with its particular strengths (and weaknesses), I would unhesitatingly place this presentation at the forefront; it riveted the attention – and for all the right reasons.


I cannot too highly praise the skill which each of the players brought to the production; their ensemble was flawless. The four brought priceless skill to their acting.


As Pozzo, Matthew Kelly was superb, a towering figure (in both histrionic and visual terms) who came across as the apotheosis of cruelty, an incarnation of callousness, not least through his indifference to the plight of the unfortunate Lucky. The latter, played by Brendan O’Hea, gave the performance of his life. Literally bowed down by the weight of the heavy bags he carries, his hopelessness and defeat would surely have moved even the most indifferent of theatregoers. His death-like pallor and bedraggled, colourless hair made him wraithlike.


For almost all the time he’s on stage, Lucky utters not a syllable. But, when he does begin to talk, one could sense an almost palpable initial relief on the part of the audience willing him to have his say. But, as ever, when the luckless Lucky finally opens up, there’s a seemingly unstoppable torrent of muddled, incomprehensible verbiage, so much so that – and this invariably happens – one begins heartily to wish he had never opened his mouth.


As Estragon and Vladimir, McKellen and Roger Rees respectively were beyond reproach. A facial gesture here, a flick of the wrist there, a frown, a smile, a snatch of  song and a softshoe shuffle, a chuckle, a sigh: these were the minutiae of a magically matchless offering where the impact of the whole was far greater than the sum of its constituent parts. Have audiences ever before encountered a more engaging couple of hobos than those given us courtesy of McKellen and Rees?


Young Craig Hyde-Smith did well as the messenger of the mysterious, ever-absent  Godot.


During intermission, I overheard a playgoer bitterly complaining that Godot was a play about nothing. Perhaps so – but I’d any day watch this ‘show about nothing’ with its myriad subtleties and veiled meanings than the one George Costanza had in mind in the Seinfeld TV series.


Sean Mathias worked wonders as director. Lavish laurels to set designer Stephen Brimson Lewis for dreaming up an altogether appropriate visual environment for the playing out of Beckett’s masterpiece with what looked like the a dark brick wall of some huge industrial building as a backdrop with, on either side of the stage, a representation of a crumbling, double storied mansion with, stage centre, a tree, bare but for a very few leaves, all, for the most part, bathed in the curious, greyish-silver light design of Paul Pyant.