Review / Music brings famous paintings to life

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Mikelangelo with Happy Axe

MIKELANGELO and his creative partner Rose Ricketson have set a high standard to follow with their recent “Love & Desire: Valentine’s Dinner”, extravaganza in the National Gallery of Australia’s Gandel Hall – set out like a banqueting hall fit for wine and wassail.

This was no “dirty Dick’s”-style mediaeval entertainment but rather a collaborative theatrical mix of music, poetry and conversation exploring into the lives and motivations of the Pre-Raphaelite group of artists, who had sought to reach back into the mythical past while enjoying the pleasures of their present.

Rarely did the performers plunge into the audience, although the larger-than-life Mikelangelo did make a specular entrance through the side door dressed up as Hades, “lord of the underworld”.

Anuska with Circe’s gown

On the whole the artists adopted a refined approach to bringing several famous paintings to life while looking at the emotional and sexual relations of both mythological and real life figures.

Mikelangelo‘s rich, thunderous voice dominated the evening both in word and song as he gave the audience the common man’s view of these artists, in keeping with their own philosophy.

In a languid starts to the evening, Mikelangelo’s sister Anna (“Anushka”) appeared dressed in white as John William Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott, representing the haunted heroines of the Pre-Raphaelites in song and poetry, all backed by an sonic soundscape of otherworldly sounds by artist Happy Axe (Emma Kelly), who also played solo on a looping violin to great applause.

Diners in front, Wendy Rule and artists, rear.

To this writer, however, it was the ethereal sound of her bowing on a hand saw which best conjured up the sense of a far-off time.

Most of the songs were original compositions by Mikelangelo, first from the point of view of Ophelia, The Lady and Homer’s Circe, whose green gown made a special appearance.

In the second section, the musical focus turned to the duet form, with Anushka, Wendy Rule, Melody Moon and Happy Axe joining Mikelangelo as the women in the artists’ lives, Lizzie Siddall and Georgie Burne-Jones, Jane Morris. Here the balance between the voices was not always successful, but did give the audience a (fairly sanitised) glimpse into the extreme passions of the Pre-Raphaelites.

For all the costumes by Saloon Design House, the magnificent flower arrangements by Narelle Phillips, and the poetry by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and others, it was in the third part of the evening that I was truly transported into the dark world dominated by Persephone, queen of the underworld, who appears in Rossetti’s painting, “Proserpine”.

It was singer-songwriter Wendy Rule and her band of musicians and singers from Santa Fe and London, who concluded the evening in a song cycle which had formed the basis of her 24-track, double-album “Persephone”, a finished work proved a strong end to an evening of artistic delights.

While this kind of elaborate cross-collaboration is impossible to replicate or repeat, the exercise of showing how artists can relate to those from another genre could form the basis of further explorations linking music, poetry and the visual arts.




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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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