Waltzing our Matilda

(Opera Queensland)


The previously successful 2009 Q150 production of Waltzing our Matilda has returned to Queensland to again charm the audience with its clever presentation.

The show is driven by the fanciful story of the writing of our national hymn, Waltzing Matilda, as the conduit to recall some of Australia’s most celebrated and accomplished musical performers.

Helping Banjo Paterson (Jason Barry-Smith) pen the verses are legendary Australian performers of times past, including baritone Peter Dawson (Guy Booth) who toured England and Europe a century ago, and tenor Donald Smith (David Kidd) who began his singing career as a country and western artist on Bundaberg radio after his return from the ravages of war in New Guinea. (Smith, the record shows, went on to study opera at London’s National School of Opera and by 1973 he was the first to sing at the Sydney Opera House.) Banjo also gets some help from Australia’s first opera super-star, Dame Nelle Melba (Emily Burke). And ‘Our Glad’ Gladys Moncrieff (Zoe Taylor) chips in with ideas for the words.

The production is chock full of comedic exchanges, extraordinary local voices and a tale as enchanting as the song itself. Burke interprets Melba with a joyous sense of the egocentric diva so finely tuned it must be accurate. Her soprano range is, of course, stunning.

As Gladys Moncrieff, tiny Zoe Taylor produces sounds that reverberate throughout the wonderfully intimate Conservatorium Theatre.

The Brisbane audience was treated to an appearance by tenor Robin Donald Smith, son of the great Don Smith.

Known professionally as Robin Donald, Smith followed his father onto the stage where he became principal tenor at the English National Opera before he returned to Australia in 1974 to take up the position of principal tenor with Opera Australia for more than a decade.

Now nudging 70, Smith shows us in Waltzing our Matilda the strength and purity of this amazing voice has not yet deserted him. A grand performance. Smith is also singing in the Redlands performance of this touring show.

At the Conservatorium, the sound was somewhat muted in places. Perhaps it was the style of microphone or the technical adjustments, but at times the piano was a little too loud for the voices.

The costumes and stage setting were perfect depictions of the time and place reviewed.

Soft and intimate lighting drew the audience into the party on stage. The creators of this quintessential Australian opera, Jason Barry-Smith, Leisa Barry-Smith and Narelle French (musical director) have done their job well.

For this reviewer, piano accompanist, associate musical director and performer Donna Balson was a stand out. Her virtuosity, piano and soprano skills combined with a real sense of ebullience, passion and sheer pleasure at the keyboard gave this polished performance an added dimension.

Waltzing our Matilda harks back to the days of families sitting around the radio to listen to the voices of these great Australians coming home from far-off lands. Highly recommended!

Tour dates: July 31 (Redland, 2pm), August 2 (Roma), 3 (Chinchilla), 5 (Stanthorpe), 6 (Warwick, 3pm), 9 (Gympie), 11 (Ipswich), 12 (Gold Coast), 13 (Logan). All times 7.30pm except Redland and Warwick.

— Desley Bartlett
(Performance seen: Thu 28th July 2011)