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Reviews/Music

Winter witchery has music lovers delighted

13 June 2022

The Music on the Terrace series launches with a sizzling performance by Rachelle Durkin and the Australian Baroque Orchestra, writes Penny Shaw.

Music on the Terrace, ‘Bewitched’ ·
Government House Ballroom, 12 June 2022 ·

I can’t think of a better way to spend a wet Sunday afternoon than in the luxury of Government House Ballroom which once more opened its doors to a delighted audience of concert goers.

“Bewitched”, featuring international star soprano Rachelle Durkin and the Australian Baroque orchestra, is the season opener for Government House Foundation’s Music on the Terrace series and was warmly introduced by Artistic Director, and long-time champion of Durkin, Mark Coughlan. 

Billed as “an exhilarating program that features some of the most exciting arias written for the powerful and dangerous women of baroque opera” the program does not disappoint, presenting a charming mix of vocal and instrumental music, predominantly by Handel but also with offerings from Purcell and Vivaldi. The concert is divided into short sections, introduced with thoughtful insight by either harpsichordist James Huntingford or Australian Baroque founder and leader Helen Kruger. 

Australian Baroque open with Handel’sOverture and Largo” from Concerto Grosso Op 6 No 10; stately, almost regal and suited to the ballroom setting. No composer does grace and elegance quite like Handel and the orchestra display a beautiful light touch as they extract the full dynamic range from their historical instruments. 

A woman in a blonde wig and flowing ballgown sings with her arms outstretched, lit by dim pink lighting and with musicians just visible behind her in the dimness
Rachelle Durkin proves herself a consummate performer as she delivers a program of dangerous Baroque arias in ‘Bewitched’. Photo: Nik Babic

After a surprising clap of thunder we are launched straight intoFurie Terribili”, Armida’s opening aria from Handel’s Rinaldo. In the opera she arrives on a couple of fire-breathing dragons, and Durkin makes a suitably dramatic entrance from the back of the ballroom in a fabulous costume courtesy of WA Opera. Once the singing commences the sparks certainly fly, Durkin showing her vocal pyrotechnics to great effect with thrilling coloratura passages and crystal clear tone. This is followed immediately by a moving rendition of “Thy hand, Belinda” from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas

The Australian Baroque players accompany with aplomb, showing admirable skill in following the sudden tempi changes and dramatic pauses in the arias with no conductor to guide them. The recitative sections are seamlessly rendered by the continuo: Noeleen Wright on cello, Libby Browning on bass and Huntingford on harpsichord. 

There is a predominance of minor keys in the instrumental music but this is anything but a sombre occasion. Amongst the orchestral delights the highlight for me is Vivaldi’s L’estro armonico Op 3 No 10, where the four solo violins, Julia Watson, Sarah Papadopoulos, Hannah Herriman and particularly Kruger on first violin, take their chance to shine, displaying some exceptionally virtuosic playing in the Allegro and finishing with a flourish that had the audience bursting into spontaneous applause. 

Read more about the astoundingly popular Australian Baroque.

Durkin is a consummate performer, wringing every ounce of drama from each aria, fully inhabiting each character and always showing total mastery over her instrument. The use of different spaces within the hall adds to the theatricality of the concert, as did the costume changes, from the traditional operatic frock for Morgana the sorceress singing the cheery “Tornami a vagheggiar”to Alcina’s green sequin bombshell for the vengeful “Ma quando tornerai

With so many wonderful arias to choose from, my favourite is the poignant “Ah, mio cor”, again from Alcina. It is absolutely breathtaking; shrouded in darkness, Durkin’s silvery soprano shimmers from the gloom of the balcony, lit only by her crystal ball and supported with precision and pathos by the orchestra. 

For a well deserved encore we return to Rinaldo and one of Handel’s biggest hits, “Lacia ch’io Pianga”, a fitting conclusion to a varied and beautiful program which leaves the audience utterly bewitched. 

The next Music on the Terrace concert is ‘Allegri to Abba’ on 24 July.

Pictured top: Rachelle Durkin sings Alcina’s vengeful “Ma quando tornerai” accompanied by the Australian Baroque Orchestra. Photo: Nik Babic

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Author —
Penny Shaw

Penny is an opera singer/cabaret artist/MC/podcaster/writer/director, in fact a self-confessed 'slashie' with a degree in Human Sciences from Oxford University. As a child she loved the the heady terror of a fast roundabout, as a mother of four children she hates swings.

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