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Review: Dances of Passion – The Song Company at the Cell Block Theatre

Review by Priscilla Issa

Director, Robert Macfarlane, took on a huge task of bringing together three, seemingly unalike, compositions. The The over-arching message – that life is classroom lessons focus on life and love, was delivered in a stunning university lecture hall.

The first song sequence, composed by Enrique Granados and titled Collection de Tonadillas, highlighted the frivolities of young men and women who, in an attempt to discover themselves and grapple with the infidelity of their partners, learn the all-important lesson…love yourself, first and foremost.

Roberta Diamond (soprano) was convincing in her portrayal of a sensual, young Spanish woman who, while exuding the confident exterior of a temptress, struggles to come to terms with a partner’s philandering ways and turn fiery emotions into ones of intrinsic self-love.

Vocally, she was very comfortable, capturing the raw and earthy sensuality of Granados’s writing. Her luscious, silvery tone was clear in all registers. Most impressive were her dazzling top notes and her ability to seamlessly throw in a messa di voce or two. Such technical skill is no easy feat. Her years of dedication and training to the artform was highlighted with resounding success.

Hayden Barrington’s (baritone) vocals sounded a little nervous at the start. Mustering the confidence to expose his bellowing and burnished operatic tone and with a little assistance from his fellow singer, Ethan Taylor (tenor) – who’s had a wealth of musical theatre experience and a developed confidence - the lesson, to love thyself, was encapsulated in the final duet, “Las Currutacas Modestas”. Barrington and Taylor convinced the audience that it would be easier to remain bachelors than face the volatilities of unstable relationships.

The big work, Juliana Hall’s Fables for a Prince, was the highlight of the evening. There was a perfect confluence of sound amongst the singers. The quartet sounded much more attuned to each other in this work, perhaps because the chorus stood together towering over their “prop”, Antony Pitts. However, the voice that captured attention (in the best way possible) was that of mezzo-soprano, Janine Harris. Her mellow and velvety tone and impeccable dramatisation in the first song “To His Royal Highness the Dauphin” captured the eerie concept of greed in our modern world. Furthermore, she and Taylor hilariously exemplified good and evil physicalised through animals.

The quartet’s rendition of Brahms’s Liebeslieder Waltzer Op 52 perfectly conveyed the exuberance of love through the lens of the natural elements, including rivers and the gleam of sunlight. But rather than sing in the all-too-familiar overly sentimental fashion typical of 19th Century Romanticism, the group took a light-hearted (almost childish) approach. This was refreshing and a clever contrast from the works preceding the cycle. Harris and Diamond’s voices exquisitely blended in the main female duet of the evening, “Wie des Abends schöne Röte”. With the resonant, placed tone of the soprano and the luscious undertone of the mezzo, it was a sumptuous experience for the senses.

Taylor was the centre of attention for his chuckle-worthy depiction of a baby bird in “Ein Kleiner, hübscher Vogel”.

A huge congratulations to the instrumentalists, pianists Antony Pitts and Francis Greep, who, with precision and finesse, complimented the singers, keeping the messages around life and love rollicking along.

Dances of Passion was a nuanced, captivating and highly professional concert. The Song Company have, once again, outdone themselves!

Image Credit: Peter Hislop


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