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Café culture

1 February 2021

The humour and frivolity of Australian Baroque’s Coffee Cantata added up to a Fringe World high point for David Zampatti.

Coffee Cantata, Australian Baroque ·
The Glass Box, 31 January, 2021 ·

Since coffee emerged from the highlands of Ethiopia in the 16th century, it has proved as contagious as any virus that has afflicted humankind.

Its delights and pitfalls were playfully explored in one of the non-liturgical works by the meister of the Baroque, Johann Sebastian Bach.

Australian Baroque’s merry, scrumptious take on Bach’s Coffee Cantata (“Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht” BWV 211) is a delightfully idiosyncratic highlight of this year’s Fringe World.

According to Bach, coffee was causing trouble as long ago as 1732, in the Leipzig household of the stick-in-the-mud father Schlendrian (Kristin Bowtell) and his coffee-loving daughter, Lisa (Prudence Saunders). Dad is determined to cure his daughter of her addiction with sticks rather than carrots; she’s equally resolved to continue it. His final gambit is to refuse to allow her to marry until she kicks the habit; checkmated, she agrees (there’s a twist).

None of this tomfoolery would work without Bach’s glorious music, and that doesn’t work without very fine playing. Happily, the Australian Baroque players – Andy Skinner (flute), Helen Kruger and Hannah Herriman (violin), Christian Read (viola), Josie Fountain (cello), Jacqueline Dossor (double bass) and Stewart Smith (harpsichord) – provide that, and clearly enjoyed the humour embedded in Bach’s music while they did.

Matt Ward narrated the outrageous history of Johann Sebastian Jahava, as well as singing in ‘Coffee Cantata‘. Photo supplied

The icing on the cake was the performance of the three singers, Saunders, Bowtell and Matt Ward, whose experience and talent made light work of both their vocal and comic errands.

I’d love to see the puckish Ward play the emcee in Cabaret, and Saunders was ravishing as Lisa, especially when her intrusive excursion to investigate potential husbands in the audience matched those of Fringe World’s perennial vamp, Bernie Dieter.

Elisabeth Gadsby’s costumes (first created for the Little Baroque Company at the London Handel Festival) were hysterical, the English “translations” of Bach’s librettist, Christian Friedrich Henrici (known as Picander) were adroitly anachronistic, Helen Kruger’s direction was neatly and correctly casual and, to my surprise, the Glass Box, an aptly-named disused former car dealership showroom, had an acoustic to die for.

It was a nice touch to begin the concert with excerpts from Telemann’s Don Quixote, its libretto bowdlerised almost out of all recognition to become a hilarious (and fabricated in every detail) story of the Jahava KofeeWorks dynasty, surely the most stylish sponsor acknowledgement ever.

What a great way to spend a Sunday morning!

Australian Baroque will also (hopefully) perform Cakes and Corelli on 7 February, and Abs Butts Vivaldi on 13-14 February 2021.

Pictured top: Andy Skinner on flute with singers and coffee fiends Prudence Saunders, Matt Ward, and Kristin Bowtell in Australian Baroque’s ‘Coffee Cantata’.

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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