Festival soprano will be singing not swinging

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Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s Shaun Lee-Chen and Circa performers.

THE 2019 Canberra International Music Festival is in a 25th anniversary celebratory mood and will kick off on May 2 with an extraordinary combination of music and acrobatics, which they’re describing as “an explosive collaboration of contemporary circus and music”.

Put more simply, Brisbane’s performing company Circa is joining forces with Sydney’s Australian Brandenburg Orchestra to create a “collision” between baroque music and the kind of razzle-dazzle Circa artistic director Yaron Lifschitz has been wowing audiences at the Canberra Theatre with for some years.

Canberra International Music Festival director Roland Peelman. Photo: Peter Hislop

Festival director Roland Peelman is also planning chills and thrills of a purely musical kind as he turns the spotlight on the music of JS Bach this year. There’ll be “A World of Bach”, “Bach Orbit”, “Bach in the Central Desert” with the Ntaria Ladies Choir, “Bach for Breakfast”, “Bach on the Mountain”, “Bach The Teacher”. “The Children’s Bach”, “Bach In Africa” and, a treat for Canberrans, “Winther’s Bach”, featuring Canberra-born violin virtuoso Kristian Winther.

But a world premiere circus – that’s something completely new for Peelman and for Llewellyn Hall, which will be transformed by Lifschitz and Brandenburg artistic director Paul Dyer into English masque settings showing The Court, The Bedroom and The Chapel.

Soprano Jane Sheldon… “I will leave the trapeze work to the professionals.”

“CityNews” caught up with soprano Jane Sheldon, the frontline vocalist in this explosive evening of music from 16th and 17th-century England by composers Purcell, Dowland, Corelli and Handel, with traditional tunes such as “Scarborough Fair” and “The Gartan Mother’s Lullaby” thrown in to evoke the right atmosphere.

Sheldon, who developed a cult following after her recording of Elena Kats-Chernin’s Eliza’s aria from the ballet “Wild Swans”, returned to Australia two years ago after a decade in New York when her husband, an academic, was offered a job at Sydney University and has no regrets.

“When I left Australia a decade or so ago there were just not enough opportunities to perform chamber music, but by the time we were considering coming back, there really were,” she says.

Canberra-born violin virtuoso Kristian Winther… performing “Winther’s Bach”. Photo: Peter Hislop

“I maintained my presence in Australia while living in New York, especially singing with the Sydney Chamber Opera and now there’s plenty of work to be done in Australia,” she says.

As well as busying herself in operas and recitals, she is now the director of the chamber music series “Symbioses” and co-director of the Resonant Bodies Festival.

“I will leave the trapeze work to the professionals and will probably resist any suggestion that I should climb up or drop down,” she says of the coming collaboration with Circa, preferring the vocal acrobatics for which she was once praised by the “New York Times.”

She’s taken a peek at what Circa has been up to following its 2017 French Baroque and 2017 Spanish Baroque successes, and says the staging and design have been inspired by the architecture of English Baroque.

“But my function is to bring everyone on the stage into the artistic setting suggested by the music,” she adds.

She’ll be singing seven or eight numbers, including arias from Purcell’s “King Arthur” and “Dido and Aeneas”, and Handel’s “Gentle Morpheus, Son of Night” from “Alceste”. And there’ll be a bit of “Scarborough Fair” thrown in to help conjure up the era.

This will be the first time Sheldon has performed at the music festival but she knows Canberra well, having once been a regular guest with Salut! Baroque. As well, at last year’s Canberra Writers’ Festival she sang Andrew Ford’s song cycle “Last Words” with Teddy Neeman on piano, David Pereira on cello and Helen Ayres on violin, an experience she describes as “a lot of fun”.

Next up, after “English Baroque” tours to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane with the Sydney Chamber Opera will be Elliott Gyger’s opera based on Peter Carey’s “Oscar and Lucinda” and she’ll head back to New York for the premiere of her own work, “Poem for a Dried Up River”.

“English Baroque with Circa”, Llewellyn Hall, 7.30pm, May 2, for Canberra International Music Festival, May 2-12. Book at cimf.org.au


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