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Review: YMA SUMAC: The Peruvian Songbird at the Sydney Opera House

By Lali Gill

On Friday night, Australian opera singer Ali McGregor opened her cabaret-style show Yma Sumac: The Peruvian Songbird as part of Sydney’s Festival Unwrapped. The festival celebrates new Australian works, and McGregor’s was the first to grace the stage this year. Festival Unwrapped is all about showcasing Australian artists and their original ideas through fresh and varied works, spanning over two weeks and absolutely jam-packed - there’s pretty much something for anyone and everyone. The festival will boast everything from dance to theatre to music to a mix of them all, and the performing arts community in Sydney has clearly been buzzing for it to start. Ali McGregor sure opened it with a bang, bringing colour and life to the stage on Friday night.

McGregor’s performance is a celebration of her idol and inspiration; Yma Sumac, who most would know as the unique and colourful vocalist from Peru who hit the big time during the 1950s. In this well paced, seventy minute show, we learn all about the peaks and hardships of Yma Sumac, both through song and spoken storytelling from McGregor. From Sumac’s first performances in the back of a deli, to her world famous, best selling albums, a failed marriage and her stint with techno music, Sumac is a layered and fascinating woman to get to know.

Accompanied by her seven piece band, McGrogor’s voice commands the room from the moment she opens her mouth, filling our ears with the most pure and beautiful soprano vocals.

Unfortunately, though the story itself is an interesting one, McGregor’s storytelling falls flat. It seems to me that she has scripted her show, which surprised me for a cabaret performance. Sadly, I felt as though she wasn’t completely comfortable with her lines, often slowing right down in pace or simply delivering them in a stilted and nervous manner.

The couple of times during her performance in which she forgot a line, and said so, (which didn’t bother me at all!) or improvised as audience members walked in late, were her most natural and likeable moments. Witnessing her be totally herself on stage was great - she is so charming and warm. I would have loved to see McGregor tell her story as her real self, moment by moment, as I’m sure she could do as she is clearly so passionate and knowledgeable on the subject. The audience feels how much Yma means to her and how much she loves this story - I only wish it were told more authentically rather than memorised and delivered in a somewhat unnatural way.

McGregor’s singing ability absolutely shon and I was mesmerized by her effortless, soaring notes and her pitch perfect, staccato jabs. Her costumes were incredible and authentic to the style, and the show’s lighting was brilliant and effective in moving the story along.

Overall, there was a great vibe in the crowd and I was glad to have learned the story of the fascinating woman that is Yma Sumac, through the skilful vocal abilities of Ali McGregor.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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