Sunday, May 8, 2011


There were two welcome diversions from routine and lingering lurgy(ie)s last week.

iOTA is back ringmastering, or mistressing, depending, Smoke and Mirrors, for which tickets at the Sydney Festival Speilgeltent were hot cakes over two seasons, I think. It ran in Adelaide and Edinburgh and this is the third, and last, here, so we are told.

With all the hype, some cast changes, and a venue change from tent to Seymour Centre of all places, let alone jaded performers, expectations were guarded. Not a bad way to start because they were seriously exceeded. There's no way the buzz of late steamy January holiday Festival nights can carry. No way. As we lined up for entry (this is general admission, so it's not when you buy your tickets but when you get there that matters), it was about as buzzy as waiting for a bus. But...

Inside the theatre, there was a fair attempt at recreating the circus vibe - lights and things - and it's in the 180, and raked, so all in all quite a good space though I don't doubt much of the magic and some of the thrill was diluted. But there was more than enough to go round and unusually, at least in my experience of jaded Sydney audiences, there was a pretty spontaneous and genuine full house standing ovation at the end. This was first night of this run. And everyone went home happy and smiling. Happy and smiling can be hard to find these days.

If there were messages about who we are, aren't, could be, will be, they were lost on me. Perhaps that needed the intimacy of a smaller venue. But as vaudeville and circus, social commentary aside, backed by the bestest hottest band you're likely to hear, this was a great night. And it is very funny.

iOTA, if you haven't experienced him (in Hedwig and the Angry Inch where his performance was unbelievably moving, and also Dr Frank-n-Furter where he was less successfull I thought, perhaps too young, too campy drag queeny for what should be more sinister), has a huge stage presence, and a great voice, coloured and modulated with a skill that belies his age. I loved the magic, the very funny strongmen, the trapese, and the rather gorgeous voiced bearded chanteuese of Queenie van de Zandit.

Two days later the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was lining up with the Sydney Philharmonia Choir and Sydney Children's Choir, with soloist, with big screen, and as it turned out with a brilliant sound man, for a live backing to the first of the Ring Trilogies - The Fellowship of the Ring. That was buzzy, with a nicely mixed audience, some, it wouldn't be hard to imagine, hearing a big orchestra live for the first time. It's a great Howard Shore (he wrote the opera The Fly, btw) Oscar winning score, here conducted by Ludwig Wicki, no stranger to film music generally or this immense work specifically. Kaitlin Lusk was the soprano with 25 Lord of the Rings Symphonies to her credit. And there was a stunning boy soprano soloist who thankfully was rightly brought onto the stage for bows.

Microphones were everywhere, but actually hard to find at first. They were throughout the orchestra, at front and side of the choirs (each either side of the screen which covered the whole of the choir stalls) and the mixer was rear stalls, where we we sitting. The film is the film - what's too say, except that it looked great of the very big screen, the dialogue was subtitled as well as spoken which irritated some, not me, but was increasingly necessary as the adventures accelerated into the great battle after intermission. I've decided Orlando Bloom is the star - his performance was very stylish, understated but quite masculine and strong without any macho macho, and if he'd never handled a bow and arrow before, you could have fooled me. Charismatic comes to mind.

Anyway, the sound was just fantastic. I've no idea if it's a hard or easy play, but it's certainly long, although there were nice breaks when even the orchestra members were glued to the screen. The sound was BIG, and a very good blend of amplified and direct, the former predominant where we sat, but enough live to give directionality, and the mixing was just first class. The choirs, no surprise here but even then still a surprise, were simply wonderful. That children's choir, I tell you, give thanks.

Everyone loved it, whooped it up at the end, as the exhausted musicians took their bows and their leave. My only regret was the conductor failed to acknowledge, as far as I could see, the mixer as his desk, and the fabulous Rebecca Lagos who had been counting and belting the shit out of some anvil or the like for three and a half hours.

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