Review / Multi-sensory portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots

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Louise Keast, left, and Shikara Ringdahl in “A Portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots” at Tuggeranong Arts Centre. Photo by Peter Hislop

“A Portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots” is Revival House Project’s latest presentation in which art song is combined with visual art to produce a multi-sensory event.

Sopranos Louise Keast and Shikara Ringdahl presented a well-chosen cycle of songs about the tragic life of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Some are well-known, such as arias from the opera “Maria Stuarda” by Donizetti, songs by Schumann including “Gebert” (Prayer) and “Ave Maria” by Schubert in an arrangement for violin and piano by Hans Sitt.

There was also a memorable selection from a lesser-known song cycle about Mary Stuart by German composer, Joachim Raff, and “Adieux de Marie Stuart” set by Richard Wagner.

Both singers gave fine performances of these works and the combination of their voices in the duets was especially appealing.

Pianist Ella Luhtasaari accompanied the singing with skill and passion. Helena Popovic, accompanying on violin, also gave a fine performance of Elgar’s “Salut d’Amour”.

The spectacularly beautiful white costumes in Tudor style were designed by Hue MacCulloch. Visual artist Shags projected live drawings on to the dresses and surroundings to create an additional visual dimension to the production.

It appeared that the general stage lighting needed to be lower than normal for the visual effects to be shown to best effect. The projected abstract drawing did not have any discernible form or connection to the subject matter or the music. The performers’ faces were often obscured by the darker colours and the constant shape-changing of the drawing was distracting. It was a worthwhile experiment, but the process needs more refinement and thought.

The finale of the concert, the prayer scene from Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda”, was thrillingly performed by both sopranos with the addition of a nine-voice chorus. This was the highlight of a great evening of song combined with unique visual art.

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