Photo – Jeff Busby

"Y ou’re so arty Melbourne” – said Meow Meow as her two audience conscripts carried on with the menial task she’d set them even after they’d been dismissed.  

It is true though isn’t it, we are ‘arty’ – proudly so, and sitting in Melbourne’s glorious Recital Centre listening to century old music curated and contextualised for now really does remind and amplify that there’s quite a bit more going on here than ball handling.  

In this, her latest collaboration with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, post-post-modern diva Meow Meow manages to (almost) restrain her usual on-stage excess and antics and invites us to celebrate music from the 1920’s. The evening’s co-curator, vocalist and narrator also highlighted that this concert was subtitled ‘Volume 1’ in a brazen attempt to ‘wedge’ herself into MSO programming forever more given her intention to be part of the multiple volumes to come. 

As demonstrated during her incredible series of performances with Barry Humphries exploring the banned, condemned and ‘degenerate’ music of the Weimar Republic, Meow Meow has a clear regard for the works and composers of this period and has been meticulous in drafting an evening that spotlights a time in Europe heralded for its shift and experimentation in sound.  

Locating the music between two world wars, economic turbulence, a political veering to the right and yes, a pandemic, was indeed salient positioning. Through the music of Walton, Hindemith and Stravinsky and additional works by Schwitters, Hollaender, Schiffer, Brecht and Weill, the MSO described the evening as a survey encompassing scandal, dislocation, quirk and beauty.

Sharing the stage with Meow Meow was Australian pianist Aura Go, program co-curator violist and conductor Christopher Moore and the MSO in various configurations to reflect the needs of the works performed.

The joy of a concert in the Melbourne Recital centre is twofold, its intimacy and the renowned acoustics affords an incredibly just, technical and visual account of incredible soloists like Aura Go. It’s always astounding to see the dexterity of fine musicians.

For fans and loyal devotees of Meow Meow, the woman has little capacity to put a spangled heel wrong and for those there principally to see her, they would have revelled in her mesmerising rendition of The Ballad of the Drowned Girl and indeed, one of her signatures, Ich bin ein Vamp in Act 1. 

The evening’s second half was entirely devoted to Stravinsky’s The Soldiers Tale. This 1918 work written originally to be read, played, and danced has had multiple adaptations and recordings over time and featured artists such Ian McKellen, Glenda Jackson, Jeremy Irons and even Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. At over an hour long, the work is not going to be for everyone, and at times it did feel a little arduous but that it’s still being performed and with its history of performance is testimony indeed to its shelf life.

While I am confident that some in attendance may have felt a little disappointed that the evening was light on Meow Meow’s more infamous schtick, it’s worth considering that the capacity for an artist of her calibre to deliver comes about only when supported by intimate understanding and thorough appreciation of what it she often seeks to then subvert. Evenings like this offer a glimpse behind the curtain of wizards like Meow Meow and maybe even some insight into their personal passions and indeed who they truly are beyond their stage persona.

Event details

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra presents
The 20s, and all that dissonance
with Meow Meow

Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre | 31 Sturt Street, Melbourne VIC
Dates: 7 – 8 October 2022

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