On Stage: Australian Brandenburg’s Bittersweet Obsessions: Monteverdi & Bach

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s latest concert, Bittersweet Obsessions: Monteverdi & Bach, offered plenty of drama and a few laughs at Melbourne’s Recital Centre.

Natasha Wilson and Jakob Bloch Jespersen in Bach Coffee Cantata

Karim Sulayman, Natasha Wilson and Jakob Bloch Jespersen in Bach’s  Coffee Cantata.*

`One Woman – three emotional tales’ was the theme of the concert. As a result New Zealand soprano Natasha Wilson appeared in three dramatised pieces – Claudio Monteverdi’s Lamento Della Ninfa and Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and Bach’s Coffee Cantata.  These pieces were chosen as they represented the three emotions of love, grief and addiction.

The program also included several purely instrumental numbers including Kapsberger’s Toccata arpeggiata featuring the theorbo (a large guitar like instrument brilliantly played by Tommie Andersson) and Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 4.

Natasha Wilson in Claudio Monteverdi's Lamento Della Ninfa

Natasha Wilson in Claudio Monteverdi’s Lamento Della Ninfa.*

However the spotlight was definitely on the dramatised numbers. So much so the orchestra performed in front of the stage while Wilson, together with tenors Karim Sulayman (USA) and Spencer Darby (Australia) and baritone Jakob Bloch Jespersen (Denmark) took centre stage. A floor to ceiling scaffold provided the background to all three numbers.

For Lamento Della Ninfa the scaffolding was draped with an enormous curtain depicting French painter Claude Lorraine’s Ascanius Shooting the Stag of Sylvia. Sulayman, Darby and Jespersen joined Wilson to present Monteverdi’s story of a nymph who has been betrayed by a lover and is consumed by anguish.

Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda

A scene from Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.*

Wilson was joined on stage by Sulayman and Jespersen to present Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. Jespersen’s Tancredi and Wilson’s Clorinda sang blindfolded near the top of the scaffolding. Below them two aikido performers acted out the brutal and tragic physical combat between the two mistaken lovers.

The aikido exponents in action.

The aikido performers in action.*

After the grief and sadness of the first two pieces, Bach’s Coffee Canatata provided some light relief. The setting was modern day and the set looked like an inner city café. Wilson played Lieschen, a spoilt young woman who is addicted to coffee.  Jespersen played Schlendrian her father, who tries to break that addiction. His threats to withhold meals, clothes, and anything else he can think of, to stop her drinking the beverage prove unsuccessful. Only the threat of forbidding marriage has the desired effect. But eventually Lieschen wins out.

While all three pieces allowed Wilson to demonstrate her great voice, this piece also highlighted her comic skills.  The program ensured the other performers could also showcase their great vocal talents.

Wilson in Bach’s Coffee Cantata.

Bach’s Coffee Cantata.*

Unlike most Brandenburg concerts, artistic director Paul Dyer seemed more subdued and unusually didn’t address the audience. However given the theme and the performance of both the orchestra and singers there was more than enough emotion during this colorful and at times moving concert.

*Photo credit: Steven Godbee

Jenny Burns attended the opening night of Bittersweet Obsessions on November 4 as a guest of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra.

The Australian Brandenburg’s next concert program is its traditional Noël! Noël! Christmas concert being held in Melbourne and around New South Wales in December. Visit the Orchestra’s website for more details.

Visit travelswithjb.com.au-live shows for more show reviews.

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