Musica Viva. Adelaide Town Hall. 26 Jul 2023
Chopin’s Piano is Musica Viva’s current Australian touring program, and tonight’s performance marks the end of the tour. It is a musical play based on Paul Kidea’s superb book of the same name. First published in 2018, the book “…traces the history of Chopin’s 24 Preludes through the instruments on which they were played, the pianists who interpreted them, and the traditions they came to represent.” Chopin composed the Preludes during a stint on Majorca where he domiciled with his lover George Sand and her two children while they sought respite from the Parisian winter. Pianos were rare on the island and he acquired a small one built by a local craftsman. It is this piano and its provenance that is the spine of the story: how it lay forgotten in Majorca for seventy years until it was re-discovered and acquired by the famous harpsichordist Wanda Landowska in 1913; how it eventually became plundered Nazi loot in World War II; how it was re-found, lost again, and then slipped away into the mists of time.
Kildea’s book is wonderful – it is fascinating, scholarly, and quite moving at times – but its dramatisation (by himself and Richard Pyros), and especially its realisation for the stage (directed by Pyros), is not.
The dramatisation is performed by pianist Aura Go and actor Jennifer Vuletic. Between them they play multiple characters, including George Sand, Chopin of course, Franz Liszt, Wanda Landowska, Peggy Guggenheim, and others. The characters are differentiated by different accents adopted by Go and Vuletic – some more successful than others – costuming, and of course the text. Throughout, Go performs the Preludes, but they are frequently interrupted by the action inherent in the narrative, particularly in Act 1. This reviewer ached for them to be played without distraction, but that wish was only granted well into Act 2 following the interval.
Most frustratingly, the acoustics of the Adelaide Town Hall all but destroyed any chance of enjoying Vuletic’s fine acting and Go’s sensitive playing of the Preludes themselves. Both performers were amplified, and the outcome was persistently echoey to the point that it was frequently impossible to hear their dialogue clearly. If one had not read the book, or had been forewarned by someone who had, it would have been extremely difficult to follow the narrative. This reviewer had read the book, but still found it a challenge to keep abreast of the performance.
As already mentioned, both Vuletic and Go were impressive, but this was not enough. At times the episodic text got in the way: too much happening far too quickly. Unfortunately, poorly thought out and executed production elements damaged the concert: the performance space lacked intimacy; the acoustics were punishing (with no apparent sound engineering ‘fixes’); recordings of other music that was played as a part of the unfolding story were almost inaudible; and the lighting struggled to be empathetic to the action. These conspired to drape a pall of dissatisfaction and irritation over the proceedings. If Chopin’s Piano is to see the light of day again, a lot of work needs to be done on the production side.
When it was over, Chopin was still a winner, and the audience left gently humming his timeless melodies.
When: 26 Jul
Where: Adelaide Town Hall