Saturday 18 August 2018

Nightsongs - Music Review

What: Nightsongs
When: 16 - 19 August 2018
Where: La Mama - Trades Hall
Composed by: Natasha Moszenin
Performed by: Jai Luke, Natasha Moszenin, Claire Nicholls, and Lara Vocisano
Lighting by: Kate Kelly
Claire Nicholls, Jai Luke, and Lara Vocisano - photo by Dan A'Vard
Nightsongs is a song cycle which is in its fourth iteration at La Mama - Trades Hall (the alternate venue whilst a new way forward is being created by the La Mama team after the tragic fire). Playing for only four nights, this time Moszenin has eschewed the theatrical elements and is presenting the piece in concert as a meditative experience on the difficulties of sleep in the modern age.

I first came across this project in it's second iteration as a fully produced show called The Insomnia Project at La Mama Courthouse and I loved it as my review clearly stated. Weaving the tales of four sleepless souls and the strategies they try to employ to engage in sleep was very relatable and egged us on to laugh at ourselves in our agonies of insomnia as well as opening up the closed doors of night to show we are not alone in our struggles.

The music has developed and progressed as Moszenin continues to explore minor key arrangements, unsettling sevenths, and decending scales, much of it disrupted intriguingly with her jazz aesthetic. She has also taken the opportunity to work with lyricists Leo Taylor, Charles Mercovich, Antonietta Morbillo and Antonella Salvestro on a couple of numbers which works really well.

The opening number 'From The Shadows' (Taylor/Moszenin) is sophisticated and beautiful and brought to mind Starlight Express for me for some reason. Similarly, 'Too Many Nights' had a certain Puccini-esque beauty which was mesmerizing and beautifully sung by Nicholls and Vocisano.

I have to admit I did not enjoy this concert version as much as the theatrical production but this was mostly because without the visuals it was impossible to really experience the contiguities of the situations between the characters, or even discern who the characters were. This may only be a problem because my history with the work told me there were characters and there was just enough dialogue between songs to make me believe these story lines still existed.

As a concert, it also lacked some interpretive layers and so, whilst the music is still masterful in using descending scales and working with the emotional dialectics of rhythm and tone to create a visceral response subverting logic, the meditative focus on anxiety provided little relief for the audience which - like a night when you just can't get to sleep - made it feel somewhat longer than the one hour show actually is. Having said that, I think I just also said it is a really successful experiment!

There are some cracking moments of humour, and songs such as 'It Don't Bother Me', 'Five Years' and 'Detox Queen' break up the night and are delivered with flare and energy by the cast. Luke in particular is the centre pole of charicature in the comic moments with a face so lively and engaging I thought it was going to play the fourth original character all by itself! 'Five Years' has been edited down over time which made me a bit sad because it is my favourite moment from The Insomnia Project and I really was looking forward to hearing it again and felt a bit cheated when it was over so quickly.

Moszenin's lyrics work well in the humorous songs because her words are so literal. This doesn't work quite so well in the gentler numbers because the spoken rythm of the plosives tends to contrast with the longer, flowing musical notes and clever harmonies. Articulation choices by the singers can help, but when you contrast it to Taylor's lyrics, for example, you can hear the difference in form and construct. Having said that, English is always a difficult language for song and opera has centuries of English translations which prove how hard it is to make sound musical...

It is exciting to see an artist continue to work on a project and develop it over time. Slow dramaturgies are becoming a regular part of the arsenal of Melbourne performance makers and it is projects like Nightsongs which helps us understand what the process does for a work.

3 Stars

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