Karakorum sees five ABO musicians (including artistic director Paul Dyer) and five Brandenburg Choir members joining forces with French-based La Camera delle Lacrime to bring to life the medieval classical story. La Camera fashions its shows out of historical sources from the Middle Ages, essentially from the 12th and 13th centuries.
According to Dyer, he saw the company’s production of Karakorum at a monastery in France’s Auvergne region and was so moved he instantly invited the group to Australia.
After playing to critical acclaim in Sydney, Melbourne audiences had the chance to see the show at the Recital Centre. The reaction on opening night suggested they were equally enamoured with the performance.
As the program explains, Karakorum is one of the most significant works of medieval geographical literature. It tells the tale of 13th-century Flemish monk,William of Rubruck, on an epic Silk Road journey from Constantinople to Karakorum (the ancient capital of the Mongol empire) 20 years earlier than the journey of Marco Polo. His aim was to convert the Great Khan and others to Christianity.
During his trips William documented a myriad of different peoples, beliefs, animals and landscapes in a diary he would bring back to King Louis IX.
Le Camera’s stage production uses William’s manuscript to reimage the music and cultures he would have encountered. As a result it includes Western renaissance music, Christian psalms, Mongolian melodies, Buddhist hymns and Sufi chants.
Australian actor David Wenham takes on the role of William and expertly narrates the monk’s journal entries. Led by La Camera’s musical director, Bruno Bonhoure, musicians and choir members then illustrate those words with music.
While the usually very flamboyant Dyer takes a `backseat’ in the production, Bonhoure proves equally enthusiastic and skilled in guiding the performance. Both his singing and ritualistic dancing are memorable. He is ably assisted by members of his company and the ABO.
Instruments played by La Camera musicians include the erhu (a Chinese two stringed fiddle), kamanche (an Iranian bowed string instrument), cornamuse (a double reed instrument dating from the Renaissance period) and a hurdy-gurdy.
A number of the musicians are given the chance to shine through solo performances. Several also showcase their excellent vocal skills including violinist Mokrane Adlani and erhu player Yan Li.
While some parts of William’s diary were pedestrian, others were quite humorous. Similarly while some of the music was very appealing, others pieces weren’t to my taste. But that’s the joy of this production – the variety of music on offer, presented by extremely talented musicians.
The final performance of Karakorum is being held at Brisbane’s QPAC on August 7. Visit the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra website for more information.
Jenny Burns attended the performance of Karakorum as a guest of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra.
*Photo credit: Steven Godbee.
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