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Tesoriero does Ferrier

Keith Gallasch

Kathleen Ferrier: A Time of Kings and Queens is a concert performance built around a recital of songs mostly from the repertoire of the great British lyric contralto. Annette Tesoriero (an integral part of Sydney’s performance scene and co-founder of The opera Project with Nigel Kellaway) stays clear of mimickry; there is sufficient affinity in her dark, chocolatey lower register and the capacity to soar to make the connection. As if sharing morning and then afternoon tea with us, Tesoriero and accompanist Heinz Schweers chat about Ferrier’s life and sadly short career with a blend of introductions, anecodotes, gossipy banter and readings with dashes of witty theatricality. The focus is largely on adapted folk songs and art songs often influenced by folk, alongside an aria from Gluck’s Orfeo e Euridice and a superb rendition of Britten’s remarkable cabaret song, O Tell me the truth about love. In braving Brahms’ Sapphische Ode and Der Tod das ist die Kuhle Nacht , Tesoriero captured something of Ferrier’s capacity for the transcendent, dark notes of the soul soaring high into the world of the spirit. Ferrier’s gay associations, her pleasure in the occasional ‘trouser role’, an unconsummated marriage and the intimacy of her relationship with her female carer provide the substance for a theme of generalised queerness if not of lesbianism. Surprisingly though, the performers omitted Ferrier’s well-documented delight in dirty jokes, limericks and crude drawings. At times the show seemed a touch twee for Ferrier’s earthiness and un-diva-ish homeliness, elsewhere it was spot on. A similar unevenness was felt in the telling of the life, a more thorough through-writing is needed, particularly in the second half where some songs went curiously unintroduced and too many years of Ferrier’s career were neglected. Significant encounters with conductors Barbirolli, Klemperer and Walter and opera performances, including, early on, the premiere of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia, could have provided a more significant sketch of the artist without dampening the performers’ playfulness. Perhaps, too, there were too many songs after interval, fascinating as it was to be introduced to 4 songs by Roger Quilter (another tragic figure who died in 1953, the same year as Ferrier) whose reputation is enjoying a quiet revival. I hope that Tesoriero and Schweers keep Kathleen Ferrier: A Time of Kings and Queens in repertoire: it’s an intriguing and engaging fusion of recital and theatre and would make ideal festival fare. KG

Kathleen Ferrier: A Time of Kings and Queens, directed and performed by Annette Tesoriero and Heinz Schweers, Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, Seymour Centre, Feb 27

RealTime issue #60 April-May 2004 pg. On

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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