The ‘Melodrama’ – that oh-so-nineteenth-century form of reciting poems or stories over musical accompaniment – had rather gone out of fashion by the time the twentieth century came roaring in. As concert halls grew, and recorded music became more widely available, this intimate parlour genre was abandoned in favour of sung works and traditional chamber combinations, consigning Melodrama to history’s dustbin. Is it lost forever?
Not if Pearl and Dagger have anything to do with it. This young company, under the artistic direction of Imogen Granwal and Tara Hashambhoy, blends theatre and music of the Baroque, classical and romantic eras. This concert, The Raven, brought together melodrama, chamber music and drama of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries in a hugely entertaining and darkly atmospheric re-creation of parlour entertainment.
The Glebe Justice Centre was transformed
A scarlet backdrop, adorned with lit candles, dusty books, a brandy decanter and – naturally – a taxidermied raven proved the perfect foil to the evening’s seductive follies, of which the first was a reading of Edgar Allen Poe’s macabre verbal sculpture The Raven. The poem was performed with bewitching clarity by smoking jacket-clad narrator Owen Elsley and accompanied on piano by Esther Kim, whose lightness of touch brought out the detail in Stanley Harry Hawley’s ruminative music.
Alice Verne Bredt’s Phantasie for piano trio was a clever addition to the program – this little-known composer, educated by Marie Schumann (daughter of Robert and Clara), wrote music which united high romanticism with quiet lyricism. Wearing marvellous period costumes, Esther Kim, Rebecca Gill (violin) and Imogen Granwal (cello) brought their keen ensemble skills to the fore, displaying a musical maturity beyond their years in their shapely phrasing and sweet-spot intonation (although unfortunately pizzicatos did get a little buried under the piano in the unforgivingly dry space).
Flitted seamlessly between rich, seductive, lively and alert
A brief comic sketch starring Owen Elsley and Alexander Andrews drew hearty chuckles from the audience ahead of Frank Bridge’s beautifully sonorous Three Idylls for string quartet, with the instrumental forces being completed by Fiona Ziegler and Tara Hashambhoy on violin and viola respectively. The playing flitted seamlessly between rich, seductive, lively and alert, all four musicians imbuing Bridge’s sound-world with convincing French-salon hues.
Owen Elsley has formidable stage presence and crystal-clear diction
Narrator Owen Elsley returned – this time draped in the sartorial elegance of a tuxedo – to conclude the show with Poe’s wistful Lenore, accompanied on this final occasion by piano and the full string quartet. Elsley’s formidable stage presence and crystal-clear diction brought down the curtain on this enchanting evening. Congratulations must go to all involved for crafting such a superb treat for the senses.
Pearl and Dagger | The Raven | Sunday June 7 at 7pm, Glebe Justice Centre