The Australian Chamber Orchestra’s M-rated tour with comedian Barry Humphries must be their most unlikely collaboration yet. The orchestra dressed in fishnet stockings and the comedian best known for his alter-ego Edna Everage guided the audience through the revolutionary cabaret music of 1920’s and 30’s Berlin.
Music by composers such as Grosz, Brand, Spoliansky was virtually lost during the Holocaust and much of it was being performed in Australia for the first time . It turns out their entertaining and provocative music has a passionate advocate in Humphries, who first discovered old Weimar-era scores when browsing a second-hand Melbourne bookstore as a boy. Humphries was aided by the outrageous cabaret diva Meow Meow who has been singing this repertoire since her student days at WAAPA. Iain Grandage’s arrangement of the music gave a gritty edge to the normally clean ACO sound, with the wheezy combinations of accordion, banjo, saxophone and bassoon.
Humphries danced, sang duets with Meow Meow and even conducted the orchestra (‘Is there anything I can’t do!’). In between he kept the audience delighted with his droll critique of Europe, Melbourne and Perth (‘We should pay tribute to the owners of the land we are on – the Rinehart Family’).
The evening was marked by a sense of nostalgia for this short-lived era of experimental frivolity and political satire. Schulhoff’s Sonata Erotica evoking a female orgasm was delightfully articulated by Meow Meow who paused mid-groan to turn the pages of the score. The same composer’s Suite for Chamber orchestra started with an air raid siren and evolved into a complex orchestral piece inspired by nightclub rhythms. Meow Meow seized Humphries as her dance partner in Jezek’s Bugatti Step (written in honour of a female racing car driver) and sang Spoliansky’s tribute to lesbian love When the Best Girlfriend with violinist Satu Vanska. The orchestra played Hindemith’s Kammermusik No 1 Op 24 with incisive energy and left instruments lying in their laps for Toch’s intriguing spoken Geographical Fugue.
This review copyright the West Australian Newspaper 2013