Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Like most everyone else, we took ourselves off to see STC's A Streetcar Named Desire. If you missed it, there is still the galah final night now on sale, wallets willing.

We went, in truth, to see Cate and I wonder how many others were there just to see Cate. Our row was heavy with UBS (presenting sponsor) people - sporting outsized UBS labels, sitting in the middle, last in and clambering over the rest of us without acknowledgement. The man next to me looked at his watch 4 times during the first half.

Walking along Hickson Road afterwards, I looked at K: "So?'. "Tennesse Willaims is a genius" he said. That about sums it up. The critics mostly gushed and the bloggers mostly called the director to account. Epistemysics called it I think. Whatever else you could find to say, it was fascinating theatre. My lingering feeling is one of apprehension - it will, I fear, be up for some sharp criticism when it tours to Washington and Brooklyn. Despite so many problems - the set (mainly for what it wasn't), the costume design (Tess what were you thinking), the endless arkwardness of it all, the dreadful accents, the monotony of the pacing, still there was Cate. She has that ability to hypnotise, fabulous or otherwise. There was little Williams ("to express my world and my experience of it") except for the dialogue, which thankfully carried the night. I am now reading Tennessee Williams Memoirs.

Last Friday we made it to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's 'Romantic Liasons', renamed from the original Nom de Nuit 'Labour of Love'. Why comes to mind - have these names at all, let alone change them. Thomas Zehetmair was making his first appearance conducting the orchestra with his wife Ruth Killius on viola for the Bartok Viola Concerto (Op. Post.).

They opened with Schubert's Overture to 'Alfonso und Estrella'. Not much to say there, not having heard it before (although under rehearsed did come into the interval conversation), except the opening brass immediately said 'listen to me, I'm different'. Ah yes, the sound was quite different. We sit front circle and the sound was more immediate, sharper, better defined, maybe louder. It didn't take long to notice the acoustician had been at work. The acoustic doughnuts sat higher, I think, and were no longer doughnuts but now filled in with clear perspex. And the rear walls of the side boxes were draped in black felt. Clearer, cleaner, and perhaps colder, and colder is not something this hall needs, but on balance quite an improvement, if more testing of orchestral balance and dynamics. C and G sit front stalls where the sound is almost entirely direct and they noticed little difference.

The Bartok, another first timer, was, as C rightly called it, a blinder. Ruth Killius was wonderful, to watch and to hear. The viola sound was right there and this is a stunning work from the dying Bartok. The Adagio religioso, the second movement (the 3 movements played in continuum), was most memorable, with haunting drifts of consciousness from deep thoughtful reverie touching some otherworldly place to distracting incessant superficialties of the lesser kind. The Allegro vivace was vivace indeed, spiced with paprika and dance. Seek this out if Bartok is your thing, for the unfinished work of a dying man.

Brahm's 3 was less successful. I was struck by how hard everyone looked to be working, not happy hard but hard hard. The new acoustics may not have helped the feeling that the sections were not hearing each other and dynamic balance suffered. It seemed awkward and lifeless especially after the Bartok. Labour might have been the right name after all.

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