Review by Matthew Hocter
Live music is the pinnacle of everything I write about when it comes to my work. For the most part, it is a moment of truth for the artist and their audience that can culminate in a triumphant explosion of sonic ecstasy that more often than not, simply can’t be quantified. It’s emotional, it’s raw and many times, off the cuff. It is an artist at their purest and most vulnerable. Should you bear witness to this type of artistry, you can safely say you have been in the presence of greatness. This evening was living proof of said greatness, as Kate Ceberano paid homage to a career that has spanned four decades, by celebrating the recent release of her 30th album, My Life Is A Symphony.
Opening the first set with “Pash” and continuing the journey through her extensive canon of work, it was on songs like “Courage” and “Sunburn” where the audience was given a front row seat as Ceberano beautifully explored her vocal ability with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra which not only provided a breathtaking backdrop to the recent reinterpretations of Ceberano’s music, but gave way for her to delve into and explore, each and every note that only a full orchestra can allow for.
Having seen Ceberano perform live over a number of decades and across just as many states, this show felt different. It wasn’t just the celebration surrounding her illustrious career or even the brilliance behind the reworking of her music with her friend, arranger/composer Roscoe James Irwin. This was even deeper and more personal. Joined on stage by four backing vocalists, it was the tallest one, her daughter Gypsy that reminded us that this was now a family affair. Standing in the shadows to the right of the stage was Ceberano’s husband, director and podcaster, Lee Rogers, obviously incredibly proud to watch Mother and daughter ushering in a new era of familial musicality.
As Ceberano opened the second set with her anthemic “Brave” which soared throughout every ounce of the Festival Theatre, this was Ceberano’s theme and one of strength and longevity. Clearly touching many in the audience, in the corner of my eye, I could see tears gently caressing the cheek of the woman sitting to my left. I was again reminded that this is what live music is all about; the resonance and power of what music holds to someone is so individual, and in this case, clearly emotional.
Tying in with the retrospective theme, perhaps one of the nights more touching moments was when Ceberano recalled her time touring Australia with the musical Jesus Christ Superstar and working with John Farnham. Performing a mashup of songs from the musical, Ceberano was clearly moved by the impact Farnham has had on her, providing a fitting tribute to one of Australia’s greatest singers.
As Ceberano rounded out the second set with songs like “Cherry Blossom Lipstick” and the beautiful ode to her nephew “Louis Song,” all under the exquisite care and direction of composer Vanessa Scammell and the ASO, it was clear that Cebrano’s brief to Irwin in their initial discussions for this show, to create something in the same vein as “Golden Age Movie Musicals,”had come to fruition and in the most organic and unassuming way. As Scammell kept not just the audience enthralled with her ethereal direction as she guided her orchestra, Irwin’s arrangements coupled with Ceberano’s vocals provided what would clearly be the Cabaret Festival’s stand out performance - and that was on the first weekend.
An encore ensued as the audience refused to let go of their standing ovation, the applause sweeping through the packed out Festival Theatre, commanding Ceberano to return with a rousing cover of the Minnie Ripperton classic “Les Fleurs.” If music is a religion, then Ceberano is its high priestess. This was Ceberano’s moment and not just a moment for reflection of a career well earned and learned, this was a masterclass for all in how artistry, when done right, is something completely out of this world.