Italian Baroque with Circa (Australian Brandenburg Orchestra)
Rippling blue gauze hid the backstage of City Recital Hall, the traditional “shoebox” concert hall that provided traditional classical ensembles with a near-ideal performance arena for two decades. From behind the gauze came tantalizing sounds – footsteps, chairs moving, pages turning, and faint sounds of fingers testing the strings for tuning. Then, with the entrance of a parade of extravagantly costumed revelers, the lighting shifted to reveal a full orchestra behind the gauze, surrounded by a massive gold picture frame. The gauze fell and the party began.
Italian Baroque is the fourth collaboration between Australia’s leading historically informed performance ensemble and Circa, the internationally acclaimed contemporary circus company based in Brisbane. From what could have been just a novelty, the creative relationship between the two has blossomed into a fascinating conversation about the nature of music, art, entertainment and performance.
There are a lot of entertainments and shows in the Italian Baroque. The program is structured around four cities, each principality being represented in music and movement. Naples dances to the feverish rhythms of the tarantella; Florence radiates poetry; Rome plays with architectural space; and Venice becomes a fun water park. In each city-state, courtiers take a Passeggiata in all their finery, setting the stage for entertaining social display as a prelude to the spectacular physical feats to come. And in each city-state, Italian baritone Renato Dolcini and the ensemble’s soloists combine Circa’s acrobatic virtuosity with their own musical prowess.
It’s a lot to take in. Indeed, sometimes it is difficult to know where to look, how to listen. Eyes are drawn inexorably to a flying trapeze above the stage, or to the swirling, glittery hoops kept spinning by virtuoso gyrations, but ears go to the melodious tones of Dolcini, or the firecracker solos of Shaun Lee. -Chen and Paul Dyer (among others). It’s hard to pick out the highlights of a star-studded evening, but Paul O’Keeffe’s clownish routines won my heart and Matthew Bruce’s rendition of a Giovanni Gregori Concerto Grosso was a welcome discovery. Meanwhile, the finale, a spectacular slide and slide over Vivaldi, played at breakneck speed, was exhilarating in its inventiveness and joy.
Italian Baroque with Circa is a simple success in this year’s festival of complications and setbacks. Enjoy.
Italian Baroque with Circa performs at Sydney’s City Recital Hall until January 27 as part of the Sydney Festival.