A seemingly effortless triumph of theme and performance that reminded me yet again that some people are just too talented for their own good.
THOSE Barbarians really know how to put on a show, and I’m not just talking rugby here.
Newcastle’s very own chamber music ensemble-cum-orchestra, the Barbarians – formed way back in 1991 to play with same the spirit and exuberance as their running-game counterparts – did it all for love during an impressive performance at Newcastle Rail Shed on November 19.
The show marked not only Saint Cecilia Day (the patron saint of music) but also the Barbarians’ 25th anniversary.
It was a typically ambitious program entitled Love You To Death combining readings of poetry and prose with a varied running sheet of music devoted to “lurve”, in all it’s dimensions.
There were songs from John Dowland, Caccini, Martini, Erik Satie, and Kurt Weill, the Barbarians’ first foray into Gustav Mahler, and opera arias by Henry Purcell, Giacomo Puccini and Richard Wagner.
Fair to say Newcastle Rail Shed hasn’t witnessed such power since the days of the locomotive as professional guests soprano Anthea Harrington, counter-tenor Paul Tenorio and the gifted Natalie Downing worked up a head of steam under the trusty baton of conductor Callum Close.
It was a seemingly effortless triumph that reminds you yet again that some people are just too talented for their own good.
The Barbarians, for the uninitiated, are a “revolving door army” of classical music foot soldiers, drawn to service largely from Newcastle’s medical fraternity.
They have built a reputation for taking on challenging music in a fearless and expansive manner, “throwing it wide” so to speak, to play for the sheer fun and excitement of it – all for a good cause (in this case the Musica Viva in Schools program).
Precious they are not, but don’t underestimate the skill, passion and appetite for a challenge required to pull off a show like this.
Every member has busy “day jobs’, which they balance with a love and enthusiasm for performing music live, the hallmark of all true musicians, and indeed Barbarians.
What mightn’t have been apparent to the the audience who witnessed this particular show was the months of practice required to make it happen, juggled separately across hectic schedules, locations, landmark birthdays and best-case scenarios from singing coaches concerned about proteges taking on some of “the big ones”.
Stan Chen, surgeon and seminal Barbarian from the formative days, set the bar typically high. It’s one thing to say you’re going to take on operas from Mahler, Wagner and Puccini, it’s another to bring the house down, as they did, without harming anyone, or their reputation.
But in true Barbarians spirit, the 30-odd players and singers called to duty for this sortie delivered when it mattered – clearly “up” for the challenge and enjoying it as much as the audience.
Counter tenor Paul Tenorio is truly something to behold live in such an acoustically accommodating environment as that laid on free of charge by the ever supportive Newcastle Museum.
That he was singing such wretchedly familiar post-Renaissance love-gone-wrong lyrics just reminds you that humans have struggled with the “love thang” across the ages.
Yearnings and observations of artists and poets were artfully drawn together in a program that engaged mentally and emotionally and couldn’t help but get you contemplating matters of the heart. A beautifully illustrated and informative program book highlighted just how much attention to detail went into the production.
Natalie Downing’s desperate and triumphant evocation of Satie and Weill may well have had her declaring in raw French disdain that “I do not love you” but the audience certainly did.
And what can you do but marvel at the power, beauty and command of Anthea Harrington rising to the challenge of the aria Un bel di vedremo from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and Wagner’s Liebstod from Tristan und Isolde as the orchestra hit its stride.
It was observed during the show that the pleasures of love last but a moment but the sorrows linger a lifetime, and anyone who’s ever been dropped by a schoolyard sweetheart will relate to that.
It was also noted that so true a fool is love, that in your will (though you do anything) he thinks no ill, and of course, I still have a soft spot for that sweetheart.
Better to have loved and lost than to die wondering, I guess, because of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.
Such is life, such is love, such are the Barbarians.