Music / “Death and the Maiden”, Alina Ibragimova and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. At Llewellyn Concert Hall, March 17. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY
IN her song “Chinese Café”, Joni Mitchell sings:
Your kids are coming up straight
my child’s a stranger,
I bore her
but I could not raise her.
Considered by many to be one of the most influential songwriters of her generation, the young Joni Mitchell gave up her daughter for adoption at the beginning of her career. Later she identified her daughter’s birth and her inability to take care of her as the moment her songwriting inspiration really began.
The story of Mitchell’s lost daughter forms the backbone of this exquisitely constructed cabaret. Van de Zandt herself had her own daughter while writing this show, providing her with a powerful connection with this part of Mitchell’s life.
Surrounded by gently glowing candles, van de Zandt narrates much of Mitchell’s story as though she were Mitchell herself. From time to time her narration is interrupted by voice-overs from other people who were part of Mitchell’s life, who offer slightly different perspectives on the events. Mitchell’s songs are interwoven seamlessly through the narration.
“Blue” provides a gentle segue into “Tea Leaf Prophecy”, setting the perfect mood for the largely introspective Mitchell songs which follow.
“River” is interpolated into the story of how Mitchell contracted polio at the age of nine, “A Case of You” provides the setting for Mitchell’s reflections on the many loves in her life, while “Little Green” threads through the story of Mitchell’s daughter, adopted out in 1965, but reconnecting with her mother in 1997. Superb accounts of two of Mitchell’s best-known songs, the reflective, “Both Sides Now”, and an upbeat “Big Yellow Taxi” provide memorable highlights.
Van de Zandt is a consummate song stylist. Her phrasing of Mitchell’s haunting lyrics is masterful as she allows her voice to float and soar, adding an occasional jazz inflection, but never at the expense of the integrity of the lyrics. Adding to the pleasure is Max Lambert’s impeccable piano accompaniments and musical arrangements, enhanced by sensitive contributions from Roger Lock on guitar and Hugh Fraser on bass.
“Blue – The Songs of Joni Mitchell” is superb cabaret. It will be given one more performance in The Q tonight (March 3) before heading off to New York where, later this month, it will be performed at the legendary cabaret venue Don’t Tell Mamma. Don’t miss it.