Sally Whitwell and Marie AngelLeft – Sally Whitwell

Adelaide Fringe is on! It is time to shake up every-day routines and drop ingrained attitudes. What a better way of gaining inspiration than by being part of a festival that facilitates reflection and gives voice to artists and their unique being in the world?

Masterminded by eccentric pianist Sally Whitwell, gutsy soprano-actor Marie Angel, lighting designer Nigel Levings and producer Mark de Raad, this innovative performance meshes notions of concert piano music and art song with explorations of erotic poetry.  

On the menu were piano pieces by Philip Glass, Michael Nyman, Yann Tiersen and Elena Kats-Chernin. The delicious Australian premiere of ‘I sonetti lussuriosi’ (Eight Lust Songs) by film composer Michael Nyman, known for his music for Jane Campion’s ‘The Piano’ (1993), was expected with anticipation.

The two sections of the performance focused on piano music and songs respectively, linked throughout by spoken and sung erotic poetry. The atmospheric rendering of the staging hinted on modern cabaret-style. The spectator’s gaze was enveloped in soft golden light, punctuated by Whitwell’s green dress in the first half and brothel reds in the second half. This was complemented by the acute awareness of body movement by both artists and multi layering of sound textures.

Whitwell is a rare bird in concert piano cultures with her fishnet stockings, corsets, somewhat marginal repertoire and attention to the performative. This may seem inferior but her repertoire is popular amongst younger audiences. What is more, she plays it with textural clarity, a wide variation of dynamics and subtle phrasing of melodic lines. In this performance she toyed with the tonal variety of the mouth organ and mini grand piano during the small vignettes that highlighted her entrance and exit, and readings of a selection of erotic poems by Alison Croggon between the major piano pieces. 

Marie Angel has a beautiful tone and an amazing stamina. She displayed crisp declamation and extended vocal techniques in her recitation of Croggon’s poems and managed the extreme tessitura of Nyman’s songs with exquisite phrasing. Exposing its delectable voluptuousness, Angel’s body emanated vibrations of frustration, excitement, desperation and craving. The expressivity of her face accentuated by a live camera close up projected onto a TV screen could have been even more expressive had the screen been bigger and focal. Then the allusion to internet porn would have been stronger and the musical narrative brought to the forefront even more.

Whitwell struggled to enter into the mindset of an accompanist, often drowning the singer or not connecting musically to the vocal line. The largely non-Italian speaking audience would have connected better with the songs had the refined translations by Dr Hillary Putnam been included in the program.

Notwithstanding the above criticism, this original production should not go unnoticed. Approaches to concert performance that explore the potential of mise-en-scène open new possibilities for both performers and audiences. Such innovative concepts are absolutely needed in the concert hall today if young crowds are to be lured in and enchanted.

Mark de Raad presents
Sally Whitwell & Marie Angel
Performing works by Philip Glass, Michael Nyman & more

Venue: Elder Hall, University of Adelaide, North Terrace, Adelaide
Dates: 21 – 22 February, 2014
Tickets: $48 – $32
Bookings: 1300 621 255

Part of the 2014 Adelaide Fringe Festival

Written by Daniela Kaleva, University of South Australia

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