Thursday 6 February 2020

Belinda Hanne Reid: Love, Rorem - Cabaret Review

What: Belinda Hanne Reid - Love, Rorem
When: 5 - 6 February 2020
Where: fortyfivedownstairs
Created by: Belinda Hanne Reid
Performed by: Coady Green and Belinda Hanne Reid
Coady Green and Belinda Hanne Reid
There really is something for everybody in this year's Midsumma Festival and for those who like their cabaret with a classical air Belinda Hanne Reid is taking us on an art song journey through the life and times of American composer Ned Rorem. Love, Rorem is only on for one more night at fortyfivedownstairs though, so grab your significant other and experience the laughter and loss of a man who's life had as much colour and movement as his music.

Reid is a very versatile and well trained singer which is good because Rorem's art songs are incredible difficult to sing. Kudos to Green as well, because if the songs are difficult to sing, they must be challenging to play as well and he did so without a single noticeable slip and with much heartfelt nuance across the entire program.

What is art song I hear you ask? Art songs are generally poems or writings which are a single voice accompanied by piano and written in the classical tradition rather than the more populist strophic form we hear on the radio all the time.

Reid has compiled a collection of Rorem's songs to create a song cycle accompanying readings of his journal publications which traverse the most exciting years of the composer's life. This is a man who certainly did have an exciting and extremely scandalous life indeed!

The story begins with his years in Paris as a ridiculously handsome gay man enjoying liberties which were most definitely kept in the dark in the 50's and 60's. I should mention we know almost everything there is to know about Rorem because he is a keen diarist and has been publishing them since 1966.

That pile of books you see Green hiding behind in the photo above is the collection Rorem has published. Phenomenal, yes? The first one was a best seller almost immediately because of it's scandalous nature. Rorem went into great detail and named names when writing about his love affairs.

His writings are full of that arrogance which only the very beautiful people have about loving and being loved and yet his wit and self-insightful musing make the observations and reminiscences sweet because they truly do come from his intensely romantic heart. Rorem is not a man afraid to feel the emotions and poetry of his life and share them with us with authenticity.

Reid tells Rorem's story with his own words. All of the spoken text is excerpts from his diaries lovingly curated to show his humour, mischievous nature, deep and true ideas on love, and experiences of great loss which span the second half of the 20th century.

Beginning in Paris he leads a life of fun and flirting and Reid brings us the detail in the modernist work of 'Early In The Morning' which celebrates the poem by Robert Hillyer. It is an intriguing counterpoint Rorem enjoys exploring in his music - a classical form with modernist text.

We hear about his great passion for Paulo from Milan before returning to New York - where he still lives now at the grand age of 94! His interpretation of Paul Goodman's 'The Lordly Hudson' is an ode to his homeland with just the slight hint of wistfulness for the end of his life abroad.

The story travels through the purchase of his home, the great love of his life, and the tragedies of the 80's and 90's when there was no means of combatting AIDS and the list of the fallen in his life grows and grows.

The intimate portrait Reid gifts us with, of Rorem having to watch it devastate the man he loves beyond measure, is heart-rendingly beautiful. The full magnitude of his losses comes through with his arrangement of Stephen Foster's 'Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair' after the death of his mother.

Art song is not easy for those of us inculcated in the strophic tradition to listen to, but it is worth the effort to experience it for the sheer beauty and grandeur. I suspect there were only 2 performances because the show is very hard work vocally although Reid copes extremely well, with only the occassional hints of vocal stress and fatigue.

On the other hand, Reid is a truly fabulous actor and has us laughing and crying as she totally imbeds herself in Rorem's words and life so that it is impossible to distinguish the storyteller from the story itself. An hour is an excellent length for this show and the dramaturgy is perfect. Hopefully it will be remounted but for now, tonight is your only chance to have this glorious experience.

4 Stars


  1. Glorious experience indeed Samsara. I am extremely privileged to have attended this beautiful first performance which serves as a wonderful primer to the remarkable world of Ned Rorem song.

    Belinda's choice of song material is skillfully woven with parts of Ned's story. Coady Green's sensitive piano contribution is key to its success along with Belinda's entertaining presentation and singing.
    I sincerely hope this goes on to be performed all over the world and video recorded professionally for posterity and our general education.
    Ned is an American composer who really needs to be better known here in old Oz. It's great this performance has been developed here.
    Rorem's song is exceptionally crafted but so is his orchestral and other musical output. Check it all out and be amazed.
    Thanks Belinda and Coady and Samsara for spreading the news.
    Jim Szymanski

  2. Hi Jim, I agree with everything you said. I don't know if art song is ever really going to take off in Australia, just because culturally it isn't something we have ever explored. I do think Rorem's music is intriguing and should be a part of the familiar mix on this continent :)


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