Arts / Balkan king takes a break for love

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In the meantime Mikelangelo, pictured,  will host the National Gallery of Australia’s “Love & Desire: Valentine’s Dinner”…

FANS of Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen will be dumbfounded to learn the founder and lead singer of their sardonic Balkan music, Canberra-raised artist Mikel Simic, is taking a break for love.

The king of dark Balkan music, famous in Edinburgh, Brighton and London, now has a day job. But there’s a good reason. He and his wife Rose Ricketson, the producer with Big hART theatre, are expecting their first child in March and he needs to settle down.

Mikelangelo tells “CityNews” all about it near the ABC studios in Dickson, where he is now a trainee presenter and host of a Saturday arts and music show.

It can’t be easy. Over the past 19 years, he and his “boys” have toured the world from Sydney Opera House and the Edinburgh festivals to London’s West End, endearing themselves to the alternative cabaret scene.

Mikelangelo, while immersing himself in Dada and Surrealism, epic poetry and absurdist theatre, has released twelve independent albums.

Fear not. Followers will be relieved to learn that the “Gentlemen” will be back to mark their 20th anniversary in 2020, but in the meantime, Mikelangelo will host the National Gallery of Australia’s “Love & Desire: Valentine’s Dinner” on Friday (February 15), described by the NGA as “a curated night of feasting like the gods under a February moon”.

It’s to be a total experience. Well-known Canberra curator and florist Narelle Phillips, has created a lavish floral arrangements to go with the food, music, poetry and romance—and even al fresco dancing, according to Mikelangelo.

As the host of the sumptuous feast at the gallery, Mikelangelo gets to play the role of Hades, Lord of the Underworld, “the role I’ve been waiting for”, he booms.

Mikelangelo and Ricketson were invited by programs curator at National Gallery of Australia Beverly Growden, to create a show to accompany Valentine’s Day and the exhibition, “Love & Desire Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces from the Tate”.

The pair have enjoyed themselves following the curators as they put together the exhibition, looking at the artworks while familiarising themselves with the ancient myths on which many of the paintings are based, notably tales of Circe, the Homeric witch, and Persephone, queen of the underworld.

Wendy Rule, to play Persephone

In preparation, Mikelangelo has been reading Kate Forsyth’s book, “Beauty in Thorns”, told through the voices of the wives and mistresses and muses of the “Pre-Raphaelite blokes”, but he hasn’t seen the sexy BBC serial, “Desperate Romantics”, so he’s very forgiving of their promiscuity.

“Rossetti and his friends were into open relationships and an alternative style of bohemianism,” he says.

“One thing that seems to surface is a belief in female power.”

Also, he notes, one of the brotherhood, William Morris was considered to be both a socialist and a feminist.

Happy Axe with The Lady of Shalott

After finishing Forsyth’s book he wrote seven songs, including numbers about Ophelia and the Lady of Shalott, then pitched them to his sister Anna in Sydney with whom he had performed a “sibling” show at the Adelaide Fringe last year.

“I wrote poems too, I turned them into song, and including a lot of duets… I engaged Canberra’s Emma Kelly of Happy Axe, who is singing and creating a sonic soundscape for us,” he says.

Then he approached singer-songwriter Wendy Rule, who now lives in Santa Fe but who used to play at his venue in Melbourne. Rule’s new project, “Persephone”, is a 24-track, double-album retelling of the Greek myth of the Goddess Persephone’s descent into the underworld.

Rehearsing at the National Theatre in Braidwood, Mikelangelo and Ricketson have created a solid structure for the evening. In the first act, Anna as “Anushka” will embody the figures in Waterhouse’s paintings “Circe Invidiosa” and “The Lady of Shalott” and Millais’ “Ophelia”, dressed in costumes specially created by Saloon Design House in Braidwood.

The second act consists of duets based on the lives of the artists, with Mikelangelo singing as Morris, Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. Anushka and Kelly will share facets of the women in the artists’ lives, Lizzie Siddall and Georgie Burne-Jones, while Rule and Melody Moon will sing duets with him as Jane Morris.

“In Act Three, Wendy and her band take us into the underworld, [this is his excuse to play Hades] and then the whole thing ends up with a bit of a dance, a bit of magic,” he says.

“Love & Desire: Valentine’s Dinner”, National Gallery of Australia, 6pm–10.30pm, Friday, February 15. Ticket price includes a drink on arrival, exhibition entry and a luxurious dinner in Gandel Hall. Bookings to



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