Review by Abbie Gallagher
“When words fail, music speaks.”
I’ve repeated this quote from Hans Christian Andersen many times before. There’s little doubt you’ve heard the saying yourself. And last night, Woven Song reminded me again why that saying is so very true.
More than just an evening of chamber music, Woven Song is ‘an international collaboration of interconnected art forms’ presented by Short Black opera in partnership with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, featuring music composed and performed by Indigenous soprano Deborah Cheetham of Yorta Yorta country. The original pieces were inspired by the Australian Tapestry Workshop, which reinterprets and recreates artworks from ancient cultures. Cheetham has specifically chosen various First Nations tapestries hanging in Australian embassies around the world as her stimulus for this artistic venture. A unique concept, and one that has certainly paid off.
Attending this recital in a critiquing capacity was admittedly very different from my usual experience of reviewing theatre, but from the minute Deborah Cheetham made her royal entrance, the entire audience including myself was enraptured. Her thrilling soprano voice began with an operatic Welcome to Country and there was no going back.
In lieu of a programme, each piece was introduced by a quality video explaining the inspiration and concept behind the upcoming number. With this in mind, the individual interpretation and appreciation was never impeded. I fear giving more details would do this production a massive disservice, so I will not spoil anyone’s potential experience and instead provide insight towards the atmosphere during these 80 minutes.
Accompanied by world class musicians and singers from the Sydney and Melbourne symphony orchestras, the Plexus Collective, the Ensemble Dutala and the young members of One Day in January Scholars, the theatre was treated to a glorious variety of music. From haunting demands that an unnamed warrior be given a title, to stately flowing sections evoking gorgeous imagery of traditional lands, every single note was flawless and truly left people audibly gasping by the end. All cultural aspects were treated with reverence and many hard truths spoken throughout the show.
The thunderous applause every time Deborah Cheetham opened her mouth was proof enough of the connection forming with the audience, but in her impeccable graciousness, she never overshadowed the other artists both on and off the stage. Everyone involved were professionals of the highest order and certainly deserve to be commended. The orchestra never missed a beat, the three other singers who completed the four part harmony blended perfectly and while I’m certainly no fashion critic, Cheetham’s array of couture gowns designed by Linda Britton got a separate round of applause with each costume change, and for good reason.
Woven Song might seem like a typical concert at first glance, but below the surface it is a very moving and powerful piece of art. One that I was most privileged to bear witness to. It speaks of a desperately cruel and dark past, a hope for the future, and brings home the vast amount of work still to be done.
When words fail, music speaks. And in a time where so many stories and historically silenced voices are still fighting to be heard, it’s works like Woven Song that can and do give that agency. I can’t recommend it highly enough.