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A Cultural Week

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This last week has been an astonishing cultural feast, with the most wonderful concert by German tenor Jonas Kaufmann (pictured above) at the Sydney Opera House and a few days later, a riveting performance of Macbeth by the Sydney Theatre Company with Hugo Weaving mesmerizing in the lead role.

I must be the most spoilt bastard: Vanya Cullen of Cullen Wines (tastings), a passionate lover of vocal music and a fine singer in her own right, procured the tickets to Kaufmann’s first performance in Australia. She loved it so much she went back for more at his second and final appearance in the same hall.

Kaufmann’s voice is rightly described as honeyed, his delivery flawless and the normally excellent Opera Australia Orchestra seemed to rise to a higher level for the occasion. The program alternated between the solo orchestra and Kaufmann’s arias, which frustrated some in the crowd who would have liked to see more of him. But as my companions pointed out, operatic singing is highly demanding and emotion-charged, and Kaufmann’s voice deserved periodic rest. As well, he probably sang as much as he would in a leading role in an opera, if you worked it out. Each song was a gem, the voice uplifting. From the first notes of Recondita Armonia from Puccini’s Tosca, the audience was transported into a heavenly place.

By the finish the crowd was almost frenzied, the applause so sustained that there were something like eight curtain calls and three encores. A well-known Hunter wine-man who is a committed opera-goer said he hadn’t seen anything like this event since Sutherland and Pavarotti sang together on the same stage about 30 years ago.

To see Hugo Weaving play Macbeth a few days later at the Sydney Theatre, where I was a guest of Cumulus Wines (tastings) and their distributor Robert Oatley Vineyards (tastings), was almost as big. Weaving was entrancing, a great actor at the peak of his career, and the performance – directed by rising star of Australian theatre Kip Williams – was challenging, daring and triumphant. The audience was seated on sports arena type plastic seats on the stage, facing the empty seats opposite. We entered by a small side-passage.

The device was effective, making us more like participants in the drama than spectators. There was smoke – more smoke than I’ve ever seen in a theatre! – lots of gore, of course, and the intensity sustained by the cast of the actors, who had no interval in which to catch their breath, was impressive. The scene where Banquo’s ghost appears at the dinner table was very moving, Weaving’s tortured Macbeth truly extraordinary.

John Gaden and Robert Menzies were also very good. Cumulus, by the way, is a sponsor of the STC, so we had a glass of their excellent 2012 Climbing Shiraz (tasting) before the curtain went up.

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