Monday, January 19, 2009

Don's party... no, not that one.

Hard to believe, but February 6 this year is the tenth anniversary of the death of Don Dunstan, the single greatest social reformer in modern Australian history IMRHO. [I paused ever so long after typing that... letting my hyperbole/bullshit detectors work on it. But, no. I reckon he is.]

To mark the occasion, the Don Dunstan Foundation (not so much a think tank as a think barrel... made out of oak) is chucking a party. And even they're calling it Don's Party. (I don't think the long thin streak of pelican shit [1] will mind the Foundation purloining the title of his play.)

So, if you're gonna be in Adelaide on the 6th, 'don' your pink shorts (or shortie pyjamas) and support the cause. It's at the Norwood Concert Hall and starts at 6 pm. Details and bookings at the Foundation web site.

The Foundation has recently posted a couple of speeches and lectures. (The full list is here.) Michael Kirby's speech at the NSW launch of the Foundation is a ripper. There's a great story about Clyde Cameron's advice to Dunstan about broadening those shoulders of his and losing that accent.

I have two favourite Don Dunstan memories: one of a press conference by his hospital bed wearing those shortie PJs, in which he called Phillip Lynch a "Rotten. Bloody. Liar." Emphatically. Precisely. In that wonderfully plummy voice.

The other is sitting down to a meal with Don at, of all places, the Dick Whittington Tavern in St Kilda. I took my (very chuffed) mother along and we ended up having the man to ourselves for a cosy little Tête à Tête à Tête over dinner at the Dick Wit.

Might have to break out the Pewsey Vale to honour his memory.

On Wednesday 22nd November 1972, South Australian Premier Don Dunstan wore pink shorts to work. ‘Dazzling Don Dunstan has done it again’ reported The News in a page three story featuring this photograph. ‘Wearing deep pink tight flannel shorts, a white T-shirt, long socks, and brown shoes, South Australia’s swinging Premier stood out like a beacon in the grey conservative decor of Parliament House.’ [More here.]

[1] Though I'm talking about David Williamson, I'm quoting Alex Buzo who used the phrase yonks before it appeared in Gallipoli. See the streak of misery entry in James Lambert's Additions and Corrections to The Australian National Dictionary, here.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Old, new, borrowed... and very very blue: Grace Jones at the Enmore Theatre

Grace Jones at the Enmore Theatre, 130 Enmore Road, Newtown. Sunday January 11, 2009. Part of the Sydney Festival. Also January 13 & 14 at 9 pm sharp.

On Saturday night, Grace Jones performed in the Domain to a massive audience in a free concert, part of the first night of the 2009 Sydney Festival which reportedly attracted 300,000 people to the CBD. It was her first concert in Sydney for 20-odd years.

Tonight, though, was an indoor show in front of the faithful. The adoring. The curious. And the set was twice as long as her performance in the Domain. (There are two more dates at the Enmore, Tuesday and Wednesday, then she's back to London.)

Jones promised plenty of emotion when I spoke to her a couple of weeks ago. She even expected some tears, singing her new and very personal songs about her family. (These are the first time she has performed the songs since her father died.)

What we got was hard core, brilliant, powercamp. Great fun. The show proved beyond reasonable doubt that 'Pull Up To My Bumper' is not about driving. Unless you mean driving home. Through back streets...

Grace, incidentally, looks amazing. Thong, corset, outrageous hats... and a mirrorball bowler hat... Man!

Aside from some pre-recorded or sampled backing vocals, she sang live and sang well. Her voice is deep and clear with that ambiguous accent of hers. But she's not the menacing presence of old. (That's an observation, not a criticism!) She's no longer a strange visitor from another planet. She's human, substantial, even (dare I say it) warm!

Between songs (she changed hats and/or outfits after each) she kept the banter going including, memorably, a cracking "Bring me my fucking whip!"

Her backing band had a drummer, a percussionist (her son Paulo), two keyboard players, bass and guitar. An accordionist materialised for 'La Vie en rose'.

The set began with Grace perched atop a cherry picker (heh!) growling "Night clubbing, night clubbing..." Before lowering herself down to our level. More or less.

She backed up with the first song on the new album. It begins: "This is my voice, my weapon of choice." And we were indeed smitten. Six of the fourteen songs came from Hurricane, the newie, and they sat seamlessly with the greatest hits. Actually, a couple of them were highlights of the concert.

'Love is the Drug' -- with the mirrorball bowler hat and two slashing sprays of green laser light -- was (literally) the most dazzling set piece of the night. It had the floor of the theatre rippling with the thunder of the bass and the dancing.

After the jump, the set list and European tour dates...

01. Nightclubbing
02. This Is
03. My Jamaican Guy
04. I'm Crying (Mother's Tears)
05. Libertango
06. Love You To Life
07. La Vie en rose
08. Well Well Well
09. Williams Blood
10. Love Is The Drug
11. Slave to the Rhythm


01. Warm Leatherette
02. Pull Up To My Bumper
03. Hurricane

Grace Jones: 2009 Tour Dates

Monday January 19, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Wednesday January 21, The Sage, Gateshead

Thursday January 22, Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow

Saturday January 24 Manchester Apollo

Sunday January 25, Colston Hall, Bristol

Tuesday January 27, The Roundhouse, London

Wednesday January 28, The Roundhouse, London

Friday January 30, The Roundhouse, London

Monday March 16, Ancienne Belgique, Brussels

Tuesday March 17, Tempodrom, Berlin

Thursday March 19, Paradiso, Amsterdam

Sunday March 22, Le Grand Rex, Paris

Wednesday March 25, Jahrhunderthalle, Frankfurt am Main

Thursday March 26, Philipshalle, Düsseldorf

Saturday March 28, Cirkus, Stockholm

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Australian soprano Deborah Riedel, dead at 50.

More melancholy news. Deborah Riedel, the Australian soprano, died today of cancer at The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. She was fifty.

Deborah Riedel as Tosca (Pic: Jeff Busby, click on it to enlarge)
(Image courtesy of Opera Australia, used with permission.)

I first encountered Riedel in 1986, when she made her company debut with the Victoria State Opera as Enrichetta in I Puritani. (She traded as a mezzo until 1988. One of her earliest pro solo roles -- maybe even her first -- was Hansel in WA.)

She was soon a darling of the VSO and the combination of Riedel and Patrick Power was a surefire way to fill the State Theatre. She was an excellent Marguerite in Gounod's Faust and memorable as Leïla in Les pêcheurs de perles. She reprised both roles with the company.

She studied music and piano at The Con in Sydney, sang in the chorus with the Australian Opera from 1983, had a few minor roles with the national company then won the 1986 Sydney Sun Aria Award.

In the next decade, she was a regular guest with the West Australian Opera (singing the roles of Meg in Falstaff, the title role in Countess Maritza and Mimi in La Bohème) as well as the State Opera of South Australia (notably the title role in Kalman's The Czardas Princess) and the Lyric Opera of Queensland as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni.

It was only a matter of time before the rest of the world took note... In 1993, she made her debut with the San Diego Opera Company (Amina, the heroine in La Sonnambula). She went on to perform at The Met, in Vienna and Paris.

The last time I saw her perform was in the all-Australian production of The Ring in Adelaide in 2004, as Sieglinde. She was ravishing as ever.

Her last appearance with Opera Australia was in the title role of Turandot, in the Domain, in 2007.

It's a terribly sad and unexpected loss.

UPDATE: For information on Riedel's ambassadorship to The Cancer Council Australia, see here.

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