IN THE dimly-lit confines of the Fitters’ Workshop, Neapolitan poet, writer and tenor Marco Beasley was conversing with the shadows cast on the workshop walls by his candelabrum.
Maybe, there was a hint, we the audience were the mask-like shadows who seem to say “welcome back to this teller of tales, reliever of sorrows and singer of canzonetti.
Beasley was quick to establish the origins of his practice, not in England, though his paternal name might suggest it, but in the ancient traditions of Southern Italy.
“I am all Napoli,” he announced before embarking on songs by himself, 16th century Neapolitan composer Severino Corneto and Sardinian and Corsican composers known and unknown.
This was no midnight performance – it was all finished by 10:30pm. Nor was it a single tale. For what Beasley does is to entice and entertain his shadows with a seamless blend of poems, ancient songs and narrative.
An eminent scholar in mediaeval and early Renaissance song trained at the famed University of Bologna, Beasley, book in hand, made no excuse for using Italian and Neapolitan, easily luring audience into his world with his engaging, seemingly one-to-one approach.
Striking for the dramatic singularity of his troubadour’s voice, Beasley’s range is such that he can move though different singing modes into the rarefied world of plainsong when needed.
His tales are of the sea, of the magical spider and of love, not so much the romantic kind but the divine love of the Virgin Mary for her son. You could have heard a pin drop when he sang 14th,-15th century composer Guillaume Dufay’s song set to Petrarch’s poem “Vergine bella” (Beautiful virgin).
All the same, the tone of the evening was not uniformly serious. While delving into the mysteries and traditions of Naples, he picked up a pair of castanets, leapt into the audience and gave a rollicking rendition of a song inspired by the spider.
The entire performance was unaccompanied, unless you count the props – a piece of cloth, a glass of water, the candelabrum and the castanets and a half loaf of bread. That, we discovered in the finale as he held it aloft, became the life-affirming Host of the Holy Eucharist.
The audience probably understood very few words, yet sat entirely mesmerised, before bursting into a roar of applause.
Just to show that he was totally on the same page as us, Beasley’s final encore was a Scottish song that had everybody humming on the way out.
Marco Beasley will appear in in “Talk of the Town” at Ainslie Arts Centre tomorrow, May 2 at 10.30 when he will talk about the art of recitar cantando. $10, refreshments included, bookings to cimf.org.au or tickets at the door.