Review: SONGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide

Review By Lisa Lanzi


A concert to farewell the 2022 Adelaide Cabaret Festival on a frigid Saturday night and warmed by the most glorious singing and music in our sumptuously renovated Her Majesty’s Theatre… Yes please!


Songs My Mother Taught Me, with Tina Arena (The Festival’s Artistic Director) and some very special guests plus a brilliant ensemble of fine musicians, was a show that touched the heart with deeply personal stories and songs of significance for each individual artist. As Tina Arena said : Chi si volta, e chi si gira, sempre a casa va finire. (No matter where you go or turn, you will always end up at home.)


Setting the scene with the 1982 Madness song Our House performed by the entire company, we were granted a visual as well as aural feast, the stage festooned with string lights and an eclectic assortment of lampshades hung from the rig. As the two hour performance rolled out, the artists took centre stage in turn to share their own stories of connection with music, family, and culture. Arena invited us into the ‘lounge room’ of a virtual house ‘made from story and song’. She also transported us to the sunroom (the ‘girls’ room’) of her childhood home in Moonee Ponds and sang Maledetta Primavera (Cursed Spring). Other gems from Tina Arena included her 1995 hit Sorrento Moon sung as a slower, haunting duet with Jess Hitchcock and recalling Summers with her family on the Victorian coast. The phenomenal timbre and range of Arena’s voice has not dimmed with age and it is a voice that should certainly be heard more often.


Sophie Koh is an Australian singer, musician and songwriter (and optometrist!) born in New Zealand, to Malaysian Chinese parents. She spent her early years in Singapore, New Zealand and Darwin and her work is known for ‘blending and balancing her cultural background, classical influences, and an individual world view’. Singing in Chinese and English with a rocking call and answer spot for the audience to join in, Koh also took to the piano to render the soulful Yellow Rose, inspired by unsung Chinese poets.


A definite highlight, with loud cheering from the audience, was the appearance of Wendy Matthews and her uniquely-toned vocals. She sang her tender, award-winning hit The Day You Went Away mostly in French, a celebration of her French Canadian heritage. Another of her own popular songs Standing Strong stood beautifully beside Joni Mitchell’s Cherokee Louise. Matthews spoke of her influences, a proud Canadian/Scottish heritage, and a father who, fortunately, had broad tastes in music so that her musical upbringing was a vivid one. She also included a traditional Scottish tune A Long way from Home, with stunning harmonies to recall her grandfather who would jest “The whole world’s crazy except for you and I… and I’m not so sure about you”. This was performed a Cappella in a lilting waltz rhythm.


Lior took the stage, at times accompanying himself of guitar, to relate tales of his own Israeli homeland and some emotional moments that attached profundity to certain songs. His voice is pure and strong with bewitching tone that can bring you to tears. His rendition of Shir L’Shalom (A Song For Peace) cast a spell of complete stillness in the theatre after Lior told how the song serves as the unofficial anthem of the Israeli peace movement, particularly since becoming associated with the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995. It is told that a bloodstained copy of the score was found in Rabin’s pocket by the attending doctors.

Thando, Zimbabwean Australian singer, songwriter and actor, with her perfect blues and soul vocals gave us a taste of Beyoncé’s Survivor in English and Nbedele, then followed with Golden by Jill Scott and Anthony Bell. We were also treated to Tula Tula, a traditional Zulu lullaby that was sung to Thando by her mother and which she now sings to her own child. Multi-award-winning opera singer and songwriter Jess Hitchcock is an Indigenous performer, composer and singer-songwriter with family origins from Saibai in the Torres Strait and Papua New Guinea. Her fun and light-hearted Stupid Cupid was followed by the Torres Strait Island song of welcome and farewell Baba Waiyar (Father Send).


As a finale, Lior’s song This Old Love was sung by the ensemble, each touchingly taking a turn in their own language. The assemblage of breathtaking onstage vocal talent was beautifully complimented by Mark Ferguson on piano exhibiting some thrilling solo work. Alongside Ferguson, his wife Susan and daughter Ciara provided the perfect backing vocals and harmonies. Nick Sinclair on bass, Chris Neale on drums, and Cam Blokland on guitar were joined by Emily Tulloch and Zsuzsa Leon (Violin 1 and 2) with Karen De Nardi on viola and Hilary Kleinig on cello. The encore was another whole-company endeavour with Tina Arena leading for Tintarella di Luna, a vastly popular song at Italian weddings.


The synergy of Mark Ferguson’s musical direction and Johanna Allen’s direction and writing made for a cohesive, vibrant and heart-warming concert which could easily be repeated or even presented as a televised special.

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