Vivaldi’s Last Meal hadn’t quite made up its mind what it wants to be when it grows up. I’m not saying this because it’s a cooking show and classical music concert rolled into one, but because all the elements that made up the show didn’t quite come together on the night. It’s also one of those shows where you just know half the audience has walked away in raptures and the other half are wondering what the big deal was about. Despite the identity confusion, Vivaldi’s Last Meal proved to be a fun night and a wonderful vehicle for chef Stefano De Pieri.
The concept for the show is a good one: two famous brothers – Stefano and older brother Sergio, a musician and composer – both from a province near Venice, come together to do what they do best. And why Vivaldi? Because he was from Venice, too. See?
And here’s where the joy of it came in for me. My Father is from Padova, which is very close to Venice, and the majority of what Stefano cooked on the night were dishes that would’ve made my Father cry. I’m quite sure my better half got very sick of me exclaiming in his ear “Nonna used to make that!”. A lot of what Stefano cooked was hearty peasant food that would fill a hungry belly and warm you up on a cold Northern Italian evening. The dishes ranged from homemade corticino, commonly known as musette (sausages made from the flesh on the face of the pig), and pigs tongue, to cuttlefish and white polenta, to fritella, a delicious fried sweet that I remember my Nonna making in her big old kitchen while my Father sat at the table and drooled in anticipation.
The well appointed conductor cum host, Guy Noble, was truly the glue that held this production together. Noble is a seasoned professional whose quick wit and easy manner gave what appeared to be an under rehearsed affair a sort of laid back cohesion. Still, there was Noble, playing things down alongside a gutsy soprano, Shu-Cheen Yu, in several dazzling dresses, next to Sergio De Pieri who looked rather overwhelmed by the whole affair, next to trumpeter, Geoffrey Payne (principal trumpet with the MSO) who seemed altogether disinterested in the proceedings. To his credit, Noble did manage to hold this unlikely crew together, and provided much of the evening’s humour. As Stefano channeled Mary Poppins during the corticino demonstration and pulled an amazing array of exotic things from an enormous pot (including a whole chicken and an entire pig’s tongue), Noble, from his conductor’s podium, quipped “Is Harold Holt in there too?”
Noble and Stefano worked well together and the flow between the music and the cooking was good. The L’Orchestra Delle Quattro Stagioni were wonderful under Noble’s sure hand, as were the soloists Yu, Susannah Ng on violin, Payne on trumpet, and Sergio De Pieri on the organ. The program opened with Vivaldi’s Concerto in No. 1 in E major (Spring), followed by a coda of Venetian fish ragu, the smell of which had me contemplating taking a nibble out of my natural fibre handbag.
This was followed by Sergio playing Vivaldi’s Organ Concerto in F. Sergio (a renowned organist and composer) clearly wasn’t in top form; his playing was tentative and awkward. Stefano, however, made up for any ill-ease by pulling his brother from the organ stool and proudly showing him his Venetian fish stock. In true Italian style, Sergio seemed less than impressed. “Say it’s good for God’s sake, Sergio, people are watching!” implored Stefano to a laughing audience, clearly enjoying the brotherly banter.
Soprano, Yu and trumpeter, Payne featured strongly in the program and were particularly delightful when playing together in Vivaldi’s Domine Deus from Gloria. Again, the distinction between Yu’s passion and Payne’s apparent disinterest (he was late on stage for every appearance and failed to engage in any repartee with Noble about it, not cracking so much as a smile) was obvious. Perhaps the real prima dona here was never going to be the sequined-encrusted soprano? Despite his demeanor though, Payne’s playing was sublime and looked entirely effortless. Nino Rota’s Theme from the Godfather, and Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor were also crowd favourites.
One altogether odd moment in the middle of the show was the inclusion of a ‘live ad’. Melbourne TV producer and funny man Frank Lotito came out, forgot to introduce himself, and then proceeded to plug his new TV show, a cooking show starring Stefano. I can understand the inclusion of a plug for Stefano’s show, but perhaps this would have been better mentioned at the very end. This interruption to the program certainly didn’t aid the already disjointed flow of the show.
With better coherence, Vivaldi’s Last Meal will be a hit, I’m sure. It’s such a great idea for a live show. Stefano has a wonderful ease in front of a crowd, with simple instructions for some amazing looking ingredients, and that great Italian ability to chastise himself, his assistant - La Luna chef Adrian Richardson - and the audience, while making everybody laugh and fall in love with him at the same time. (My Nonna had this gift; it’s infuriating and brilliant all at once.) Stefano was rushed for time towards the end - and finishing at 10.45pm, it did make for a long show. He had to leave his fritella cooking so Noble could get on with the last piece, Vivaldi’s Concerto No.4 in F minor (Winter). The witty Noble of course, then turned to the audience and added that “the recommended cooking time for fritella is a Vivaldi concerto”.
Cantor Productions presents
Vivaldi’s Last Meal
Venue: Hamer Hall, the Arts Centre – Melbourne
Date: Saturday March 21, 2009
Times: 2pm and 8pm
Tickets: $83 - $42 - booking fees may apply
Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au or 136100