Featuring Tamsin Carroll, Jonathan Welch, Jenny Woodward and The Queensland Orchestra.
Some years it’s really difficult to get the Christmas spirit. Shops start selling tinsel in October, but when December rolls around, and it’s time to put up the tree, Christmas still feels like it should be months away. Fortunately for me, this year I have discovered one sure way to overcome the pre-festive season malaise: go and see QPAC’s Spirit of Christmas.
Spirit of Christmas is an annual event, but I haven’t been before, so the level of entertainment was a pleasant surprise. I was particularly interested in seeing Jonathan Welch, the force behind the brilliant Choir of Hard Knocks, and he didn’t disappoint. I especially enjoyed his performance of the beautiful ‘You Raise Me Up’. And he promised to bring the Hard Knocks Choir north to Brisbane next year, something to look forward to.
However, Spirit of Christmas is more than the work of one man, and a whole array of talent was on display. The other principal entertainer was Tamsin Carroll, last seen by Brisbane audiences in the role of Dusty. The other big star of the show was The Queensland Orchestra, conducted by the brilliantly energetic Nicholas Milton and they were a pleasure to listen to, as were the Brisbane Chorale, a symphonic choir of 100 voices. The Brisbane Birralee Voices, a youth choir, were another revelation for me. Their angelic voices joined Tamsin Carroll’s on stage to sing the beautiful ‘When a Child is Born’, and later accompanied Jonathan Welch in a rendition of ‘Do you hear what I hear?’.
The host for the evening was Jenny Woodward, who shed her weather-girl persona for the evening and proved to be a very entertaining master of ceremonies. Resplendent in glittering blue, she rivalled the lights on the Christmas tree behind her, and her banter with the audience and the orchestra sparkled too, proving why she is such a popular media personality.
A nice touch was a homily by Father Peter Dillon, who reminded us about the true spirit of Christmas, and that the season is about more than bingeing on food and consumer goods.
But it was the music that we all came for, and we weren’t disappointed. The songs were a varied mixture of traditional and modern carols, solos and group efforts. And the audience didn’t miss out either. We had our opportunity to join in with the cast for a few numbers, including ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, ‘The First Noel’, and my favourite, ‘Joy to the World’, with the lyrics thoughtfully provided in the program.
While the audience seemed to be mostly grey-haired, there were also a lot of children present, and they too got their chance to perform. Jenny and Jonathan invited them all up on stage to sing ‘Jingle Bells’, and the filled the stage in their enthusiasm.
However, it was superb didgeridoo playing by William Barton that stole the show. Barton, one of Australia’s leading didgeridoo players and composers, opened the second half of the show with a beautiful and unusual rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’. But it was his performance of ‘Away in a Manger’, accompanied by Nicholas Milton on violin, that I think most of the audience will remember. The two brilliant musicians were almost duelling with their instruments, creating one of the most unusual, and beautiful performances of the carol that I have ever heard.
The evening ended on a high note, with the audience joining in for the final two popular favourites: ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing’ and ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’.
So if the thought of Christmas leaves you cold, and you really need an injection of enthusiasm for the whole season, I strongly recommend Spirit of Christmas. It certainly worked for me!
Artistic Director John Kotzas
Playing until Saturday 8 December 2007: Friday and Saturday at 7pm, Saturday matinee at 2pm
Duration: 2 hours, 10 minutes, including a 20 minute interval