Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret, the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s latest concert, is a fascinating, entertaining, remarkable and unparalleled performance and exploration of music from the years of Germany’s Weimar Republic. Guest artist and cabaret performer extraordinaire, Meow Meow, completes this brilliant complement of artists to bring to life the very stirring work of an interesting line up of composers, many of whose work is lucky to be in existence today after Hilter came to power in Germany.
The music and some of the composers from the Weimar Republic will be familiar to a few audience members, composers like Weill, Grosz and Hollander. However, much of the work won’t be because the composers and their music disappeared as a result of this tumultuous time in history. For some of the music it is the first time it has been performed in Australia. Humphries, through his renowned dry wit and superlative talent for storytelling, shares with the audience the personal journey his attraction to and passion for Weimar music has taken him on. From his first encounter as a boy who stumbled upon stack of sheet music in second hand book store in Melbourne, through to serendipitous moments. (For example when he noticed the name Spoliansky on the front door of a residence in London and decided to ring the bell.)
Meow Meow fully fleshes out the cabaret elements in Weimar Cabaret. With grand elegance and flair she beguiles the audience. Meow Meow communicates the heightened emotional content and poignancy within many of the songs while also playing up the comedy when it’s called for. Her performance of Weill’s Surabaya Johnny was mesmerising. The character’s longing, disillusionment and love for her criminal boyfriend is powerfully portrayed so much so that during dramatic pauses you could have heard a pin drop in the QPAC Concert Hall. Meow Meow’s performance of Schulhoff’s Sonata Erotica, a Dadaist work, had the audience in stitches. The duets between Humphries and Meow Meow were special stage moments that appeared as though they could have been plucked from the stage of a 1920/30’s music hall, much to the credit of director, Rodney Fisher.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra’s artistic director and lead violin, Richard Tognetti, conducts the orchestra with expert ease and when in full flight of performance, it is difficult not to be drawn to only watch him play. The ACO musicians (complete in their own cabaret kit) displayed the dynamic and versatile range of their musicality. There was a lot to take on aesthetically and the eclectic range of the music meant that there was always something for the audience’s ear to marvel at and appreciate. Hindemith’s Kammermusick No.1, Op.24 opened the performance and from the very beginning the tone for the Weimar Cabaret was set. The sense of experimentation, the edginess, the beauty to be had in a single moment, the urgency in so many of the melodies to grab life and take pleasure in the music was apparent in the performance. There was also a sense of delight and melancholy, and the extremes of the time and the place in history when these composers created their work. The music was palpable and vibrantly so through the ACO’s performance and Ian Grandage’s arrangements.
It was exciting to see a collaboration of this kind in concert, Australia’s prominent and foremost chamber musicians combining forces with Barry Humphries and Meow Meow. Humphries’ passion for Weimar music is obvious and the reason why he is drawn to the composers and their work was so wonderfully apparent in the musical performances of the ACO, Humphries and Meow Meow. Weimar Cabaret made for diverse and compelling music theatre. What has been created is a rare performance opportunity for true music lovers that could quite possibly never be repeated.
Australian Chamber Orchestra
Barry Humphries' Weimar Cabaret
23 April – 8 May
City Recital Hall, Angel Place Tuesday 23 April, 8pm; Wednesday 24 April, 7pm; Friday 26 April, 1.30pm; Saturday 27 April, 7pm | cityrecitalhall.com, 02 8256 2222
Sydney Opera House, Concert Hall Friday 3 May, 8pm | sydneyoperahouse.com, 02 9570 7777
QPAC Concert Hall Wednesday, 1 May, 8pm | qtix.com.au, 136 246
Hamer Hall Sunday 5 May, 2.30pm; Monday 6 May, 8pm | artscentremelbourne.com.au, 1300 182 183
Adelaide Town Hall Tuesday 7 May, 8pm | bass.net.au, 131 246
Perth Concert Hall Wednesday 8 May, 7.30pm | ticketek.com.au, 1300 795 012