Arts / Musical portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots

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Soprano Louise Keast… “I was inspired by a woman who was ultimately condemned and beheaded.” Photo by Peter Hislop

WITH Josie Rourke’s historical drama film “Mary, Queen of Scots” due for release, the doomed Mary, Queen Elizabeth I’s arch-rival, is all the rage around the globe and Canberra, it seems, is no exception.

The enterprising Louise Keast, co-founder with fellow soprano Shikara Ringdahl of the “Revival House Project”, which focuses on bringing fine art song to Canberra, is now deep in a cross artform presentation coming up at Tuggeranong Arts Centre featuring beautiful songs, especially those by Robert Schumann, related to the fate of the hapless Scottish Queen.

At a mere 25-years-old, very young for a soprano, Keast has been seen in several operatic productions in Canberra and most recently in her presentation of Spanish song, “Spanisches Liederabend”.

She has recently moved with her partner to rural Victoria and has her eyes on the operatic scene in Melbourne, where she is now taking classes with dramatic contralto Liane Keegan.

Meantime Ringdahl, who won five awards in last year’s Australian Singing Competition, has been in Tel Aviv and Germany, where her new singing teachers have encouraged the transition from a mezzo soprano role to that of bel canto soprano, meaning that Canberra audiences will get two soprano versions of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Keast is keen to stress that the Revival House Project was always conceived as a collaborative exercise, broadening the scope of the traditional vocal recital format.

For instance, during  the coming production Canberra print artist Shags will do live drawings, then projected on to original Tudor-inspired gowns by designer Hue MacCulloch. The gowns will be white – not perhaps historically accurate, but necessary as a background for the projections.

The two Marys will be raised on a plinth, “so we can look more like museum statues of Mary”, while pianist Ella Luhtasaari and violinist Helena Popovic will be below them.

Keast and Ringdahl are normally addicted to the German lieder, but in this case, because of the subject matter which they say is “far more theatrical,” the presentation will be more like opera, with the very human aspects of Mary and a fictional confidante emphasised.

At the centre is Schumann’s famous “Gebet” (“Prayer”, based on Mary’s actual prayer before her beheading) but there’ll also be art songs by Elgar, Wagner, Loewe and Joachim Raff and arias from Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda”.

In researching the performance Keast, a former history student, also found a set of 25 songs about Mary, set by Raff, and has selected eight of them none of which, she believes, has ever been performed in Australia.

Keast does not shy away from an overtly romantic view of Mary and says: “I was inspired by a woman who was ultimately condemned and beheaded; in her life she was so isolated.”

“A Portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots”, Tuggeranong Arts Centre, 7pm, Friday, August 24 and 5pm, Sunday, August 26. Bookings to


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