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No Rounds in the Chamber

Joel Hillman reviews the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s Reflections on Gallipoli.

ACO

I am not sure why Reflections on Gallipoli was put on, and why now. It certainly gave no message, the multimedia was confused and erratic, the actors mediocre at best, and the visual elements distracting and cheap. I would have much preferred to see the Orchestra perform alone, as they do best.

The Orchestra themselves lived up to my expectations by performing perfectly. Credit to first violinist-cum-conductor (and ACO’s artistic director), Richard Tognetti, whose solos and skill in general were admirable.

My concern was with whatever it was that surrounded the orchestra. A mixed media dredging of the ANZAC experience in WWI, the orchestra played in front of a large screen in the Opera House’s main concert hall onto which a melee of black-and-white photos and videos of soldiers in various activities was projected, accompanied by the orchestra, whose music, though expertly played, was somewhat chaotic in its selection.

The live action part of the performance comprised two actors and a soprano soloist. Both actors were NIDA educated, and neither had bothered to learn their lines. I am not aware of scripts on stage being the done thing in this kind of performance, but I still think it unseemly when two people, presumably quite experienced in their craft, resort to breaking lines and visibly checking their script during their ill-chosen monologues. Neither did they know their cues. At one point Nathaniel Dean stood a full two minutes before the end of the music, and then froze halfway toward sitting down, before deciding on standing in darkness. Yalin Ozucelik, his Turkish-speaking colleague, seemed more polished, though also was not able to remember all of his lines.

Dean had a tacky affectation of the voice, and maintained an irritating, shaky, nervous demeanour for the full two hours, regardless of what he was saying (reading). He looked like a Year 10 Drama student trying to look ‘sad’. Ozucelik was much more professional and gave a better performance, though seemed wooden in a curiously out of place insert where the two interacted briefly as Australian and Turkish officers.

I also disliked the selection of monologues, taken from reports and letters by soldiers. One recounted having to bayonet bloated corpses of friends, and described dead comrades ‘four deep’ that bred swarms of flies which got into one’s mouth. It had an elderly woman sitting next to me in tears. A rather vulgar and crude video of writhing green bottle flies played for several minutes accompanying this, which was disgusting.

A particularly bizarre point was a piece quickly written by Carl Vine for the soprano, Taryn Fiebig, which took the moving “our sons as well” address by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, commander of the Turkish troops, about how the ANZAC troops lay with peace, respect and love in the Turkish soil, and made it into a tasteless and gauche solo over randomly selected notes where Fiebig’s considerable talent was wasted by making her repeat a few words at a time, such as “shed their blood” or “those heroes” over and over before moving on to repeating the next few words.

This was oddly matched with photographs of the words on the Gallipoli monument. Seeing the words “shed their blood” fade on and off the screen so many times was frankly just weird. It climaxes with Fiebig frantically wailing “Johnnies and Mehmets”, which was embarrassing.

I suggest you wait until the ACO are performing without the mess.

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