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Inner Western Courier Thursday Not Used Anymore : February 4th 2009
MB INNER-WEST WEEKLY, Thursday, February 5, 2009 39 ARTS www.innerwestweekly.com.au Epic Wind from China Wind of Shaolinevokes the country's epic landscape and traditions using spectacular set pieces and a huge cast CHARIS CHANG EVERYTHING in China is done on a grand scale and the beautiful production of Wind of Shaolin evokes the country's epic landscape and traditions using spectacular set pieces and a huge cast. Based on a traditional Chinese story, this dance production features martial arts performed by monks from Shaolin Temple as well as lyrical ballet moves and acrobatics. The solemn appearance of the Great Master Hui Shan announces the spine- tingling start of Wind of Shaolin, when he uses a large piece of wood to ring an enormous brass bell that sits on one side of the stage. The curtain is drawn to reveal the lovers Tian Yuan (played by both Wang Peng and Zeng Peng Fei) and the lovely Su Shui (Zhang Si Rui), as she dances playfully with a long pheasant tail feather. Their peace is shattered by bandits who kill Tian Yuan. He is raised from the dead by Buddhist monks with a replica of the Shaolin Temple acting as a stunning backdrop. A young disciple, Ziaoshami (Xia Xiao Pei), who has perfected the art of landing on his head, is a standout as the comic relief. The action starts to heat up as Tian Yuan learns kung fu from the military monks and faces the evil One-Eye Ghost. The stage becomes a blur of action and sets off spontaneous applause from the audience as the monks show off their fighting skills using spears, swords and chains. There is no dialogue in Wind of Shaolin but the story is fairly easy to follow through the dance. Though the choreography is at times repetitive, there are beautiful moments and the grand sets in particular add a certain magic to this tale of love and loss. With a cast of more than 60 performers from the Zhengzhou Song and Dance Theatre in China, Wind of Shaolin,isan ambitious production that sweeps you up in the action and holds you until the end. Wind of Shaolin is showing at the State Theatre, 49 Market St, Sydney from February 19 until March 1. Tickets cost $55-$89.90 and can be purchased from ticketmaster.com.au or by calling 136 100. For more information go to windofshaolin.com.au listenup STEVE MOFFATT THE Sydney International Piano Competition is one of the most gruelling ordeals for any young musician, and last year's week-long contest in July was one of the fiercest yet. It attracted 36 competitors from around the world, and these had to be whittled down to the final six. Now ABC Classics has released volume one of the 2008 SIPCA Solo highlights on a four-disc set. Presumably there's a second volume to come, but this one should give even the most discerning listener a comprehensive survey of the talent which fought it out on the Opera House concert hall stage. The ultimate winner was Russian Konstantin Shamray, and you can tell why from his lucid working of Mozart's F major sonata KV533/494, as well as the bravura allegro from Beethoven's Hammerklavier. But it's not just about winners -- some of the performances from those who didn't make the final cut will take your breath away. Perhaps more important is the selection of the music itself -- this is a veritable smorgasbord to suit all tastes. The performers are all impressive but I have to take my hat off to third-placed Israeli Ran Dank who shows great versatility in his beautiful handling of works by J.S Bach, Boulez, Rachmaninov and Debussy. The set retails for $49.95. RAYMOND Hanson, who died in 1976, taught and influenced a whole generation of Australian composers but his own works have been neglected. Part of the reason is that his scores only exist in manuscript form in the Sydney Conservatorium, but violinist Susan Collins has edited some parts for performance and the result is a lovely recording on the Tall Poppies label. It opens with Sonata Op 5, written on the eve of World War II, and a very fine piece it is, showing that Hanson knew his Faure and Franck and yet had his own distinctive voice. Much of his music shows the influences of jazz and Aboriginal music, as well as the European tradition. Collins and pianist David Miller perform seven of Hanson's works on this CD. The sonata is perhaps the pick of the bunch but there's a great depth and variety to Hanson's work. Legende is a darker piece while his lighter, more playful side comes out in Three Fancies. This is far more than salon music and it is a real discovery. Collins and Tall Poppies are to be congratulated for helping to restore this gifted composer to a wider public. Raymond Hanson: Complete Works for Violin and Piano is available now. For details phone 9552 4020 or go to www.tallpoppies.net IHAVEtocomerightoutandsayit--Iamnot a great fan of children's choirs. I sang in one when I was at school and the experience has perhaps left me with some deep psychological scars. I don't have a problem with ''philharmonic'' or cathedral choirs (although they should ideally be all-male as girl choristers don't have that same bell-like timbre) and our own Gondwana Voices does have a special magic, but by and large they don't do it for me. That said Pigs Could Fly (Naxos 8572113) featuring the New London Children's Choir under Ronald Corp with Alexander Wells on piano is an excellent collection of 20th century music by a diverse group of composers including Benjamin Britten (the ubiquitous Corpus Christi Carol), Richard Rodney Bennett, John Taverner, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Peter Maxwell Davies. It is distributed by Select on www.savd.com.au Butterfly kissed by touch of Zen OPERA: Puccini's Madama Butterfly BY: Opera Australia WHERE: Opera House WHEN: Until March 23 REVIEWER: Melissa Lesnie THOUGH Moffatt Oxenbould's classic Madama Butterfly is unquestionably one of Opera Australia's best-loved and most memorable productions, its shimmering silk is not without holes. Its greatest strength lies in evocative design (Russell Cohen and Peter England) that for the main part doesn't bow slavishly to Puccini's lurid exoticism, instead offering a stylish contemporary edge to Japanese shoji screens and cherry blossoms. Beautifully lit by Robert Bryan, this setting takes on the appearance of a shrine as the delicate Butterfly worships and awaits her American husband. The staging's Zen minimalism unfolds to embrace both the lavish romance and the oriental flourishes of the music, but some of this romantic gesture and Eastern incense is taken too far: geishas posing stiffly, a bombastic shaman priest and an awkward second-act dance sequence more confusing than moving. None of this can detract from Cheryl Barker's consum- mate mastery of the title role, captivatingly sweet and fragile for Butterfly's first appearance, but matured and resolute by the time the full despair of her situation is revealed. She is in brilliant, warm voice for that immortal aria, Un bel di (One Fine Day), powerfully conveying Cio-Cio-San's hopefulness in the face of abandonment by two cultures and the man she loves. Barker and tenor Julian Gavin are superbly matched in their heady Act One love duet, and Gavin's Lieutenant Pinkerton is convincingly entranced by his foreign conquest, making his subsequent betrayal and remorse all the more painful. For the role of Butterfly's servant and confidant Suzuki, Catherine Carby's mezzo is rich yet flexible -- ideal for Puccinian phrasing -- though dramatically her character is confined to weeping and praying. Graeme Macfarlane provides great comic respite as Goro, the shrewd marriage broker who offers young Japanese girls to his Western clients at a bargain price. At the December 30 premiere under conductor Shao-Chia Lu, the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra was restless, ringing in the New Year with a lacklustre performance, particularly uneven in the brass American anthem motif. A return to the usual high standard of playing should have first-time opera-goers marvelling at the lushness of Puccini's score: Madama Butterfly remains a faithful introduction to the splendour of opera and a perennial favourite for those already acquainted with it.
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February 11th 2009