Recent productions by Hobart companies, IHOS's Touch Wood and Scape Inc's Who the Fuck is Erica Price while stylistically distinctive, shared certain concerns, notably human isolation, if not tragedy, and a non-judgmental view of aspects of mental instability. These bleak topics were countered by spellbindingly good productions, with nuanced performances bringing out the best in script and libretti.
Increasingly, IHOS Opera mentors younger performers through its Music Theatre Laboratory, presenting works-in-progress. These performances are arguably more successful than some of IHOS's full-scale productions, several of which have been excessive in their attempts to incorporate every trick in the book. The Laboratory, says IHOS, is "a place of experiment, discovery and learning" that gives young Tasmanian performers and composers the opportunity to work with directors and composers of national and international renown.
The main work, Touch Wood, is a thorough success. Concept and direction are by prominent Finnish choreographer and director Juha Vanhakartano and its music is by Adelaide-based composer Claudio Pompili. Touch Wood is accessible without losing intellectual rigour and largely succeeds in being humorous without trivialising its subject, obsessive-compulsive disorder. It looks, as the program note says, "at the rituals and obsessions we create to maintain our sense of security and draws parallels between them and the superstitions of mediaeval times." It asks whether we enjoy greater freedom nowadays or if it's an illusion. Five characters play out their private compulsions and rituals, occasionally interacting in amusing or poignant ways. There are some well realised solos incorporating spoken word and movement. I found the hypochondriac, the religious fanatic and the "compulsive apologiser" particularly entertaining.
The set, lighting and costumes, reminiscent of German Expressionist cinema, are integral to the success of Touch Wood. The performance reaches a musical and dramatic peak with a clever group-choreographed "silly walk" around the stage. The climax is loud, tuneful and exuberant and seems to imply that the human spirit can overcome even impossible odds.
Diana Klaosen "The power of compulsion", Realtime, Sunday, 18 August 2002. *copyright RealTime www.realtimearts.net*
Set in the cool, stark confines of the upper level of Adelaide's ultra hip nightspot the Cargo Club, The Last Child is one of the Festival's more unique performance experiences. The show is powered along by spiky-haired vocalist Libby Donovan, singing non-stop for an hour in one spot, while dancer Richard Seidel moves slowly around the space, his presence ultimately consumed by the cacophony of sound and images. The overall experience is loud and chaotic, albeit with some tender moments.
Louise Nunn, "Unusual flight into multi-media theatre" The Advertiser, Adelaide, Monday, 13 March 2000. *copyright RealTime www.realtimearts.net*
If more concerts had this level of performance I would be overjoyed. Doppio have created an elegant style that falls between cabaret, performance and concert. The design is beautiful; a corridor of untouched sand, which leaves trails of evidence; 3 suspended drawers reminiscent of Dali; the musicians scattered around the space. Libby Donovan gives a performance so epic and engaging that I found it hard to pull my gaze away and watch the dancer. The music, composed by Claudio Pompili, has an exotic and dramatic force, ever present but sometimes lying low, moving from chaotic structures to come together in hunks of electric energy. The performance is both bewildering and exciting.
Gail Priest, "Tracking texts" Realtime @ the Telstra Adelaide Festival 2000, No.3, 14 March 2000. *copyright RealTime www.realtimearts.net*
The Last Child is loud, lusty, in-your-face but at the same time gentle, generous and above all honest. The meaning of life, impossible to capture in words ("nothing said is ever true") is here encapsulated in the raw energy and individual involvement of the vocal narrator, musicians and DJ, their intensely passionate desire to communicate knowledge, and their final realisation that truth is non-transferrable. ("You never remember, she begins to mumble, none of us carry the same kind of flower. Claudio Pompili's score is a compilation and layering of acid funk, solid baroque, high romanticism, Spanish and Latin modes, minimalist moments, folky flavours and just jazz, all ardently adherent to (and simultaneously commenting on) the emotional content of the text. The performers...deliver the goods with the strict discipline of serious chamber music, the united abandon of good jazz and - towards the end - the intensity of tribal passion. Inspired improvisation, collaborative co-existence...[T]his could be one of the festival's more innovative creations.
Diana Weekes, "Life in a nutshell" Realtime @ the Telstra Adelaide Festival 2000, No.3, 14 March 2000.
A large-scale, ritualistic piece [Polymnia Triptych], encrusted with fine filigree and melismata in the best contemporary Italian style, Pompili's work documented with passion and rhetoric the composer's quest for a personal voice as an emerging Italian-Australian artist. [T]he overall result was sombre, dignified and sometimes very moving.
Stephen Ingham "Rhythms from the River Plate" The Age, Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, 3 September 1996
[Pompili's] immensely appealing new work. Both these works [Pompili and Denley] are great steps forward in Australian music. Both represent the great spirit of investigation in music, of newness. [B]oth [compositions] seem fresh to me, original and confident. It's an immensely complex work, dense and difficult yet never obscure, or overly complex. I think it's a geat piece and a major contribution to the repertoire and I hope it's not forgotten.
- John Crawford "Improvisation and Structure" New Music Australia, ABC Classic FM, 26 April, 1995
On the second half there were three virtuoso works for various instruments, starting off with a furious little piece for solo bass, "Scherzo alla Francescana" by Claudio Pompili. Soloist Robert Black flailed away mightily at his instrument-a barrage of percussive thumps and squeaks, tailpiece indignities and harmonic shrieks that delighted the crowd.
Kenneth Young "Mixed bag of new compositions highlights UB's June in Buffalo" The Buffalo News, Buffalo, New York, 7 June 1994
[Citlalin Tlamina is] music which combines ingenuity with inspiration.
Fred Blanks, The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, Australia 1991
Perhaps the strongest piece of the evening came in the form of Lo Spazio Stellato Si Riflette in Suoni . Poole and Sacks performed it brilliantly. With the mellow sound of the wooden baroque flute interacting with all the rhythm parts, a sense came over the piece which obscured its origins. All of the instruments were African in genesis, and European in modification, and both reflected the origins of music in its constituent parts of melody and rhythm.
Chris Corrigan, The Examiner, Peterborough, Ontario 1990
[Lo Spazio Stellato Si Riflette in Suoni has a] manic, elemental energy [that] wrenches the small, speech-like gestures of baroque music into the twentieth century, turning them into rigidly stylized, dislocated gestures and often jazzy rhythms.
Tamara Bernstein, The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Ontario 1990
Claudio Pompili gave the baroque flute no quarter in his Lo spazio stellato it drove ahead with energetic self-assurance.
Ronald Hambleton "Flute adapts to times" The Toronto Star, Toronto, Canada, Tuesday, 30 October 1990
[Lo Specchio del Fiore is a] work of extraordinary beauty and a performance of remarkable virtuosity and conviction.
Richard Peter Maddox, The Armidale Express, Armidale, Australia 1988
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