Category Archives: Around Australia

Musical Night Out

Little Honey and Isabelle are at the concert hall to listen to Nicole Car with the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

Originally from Melbourne, Nicole studied jazz singing in school, switching to classical voice in her late teens. It was a great choice, Nicole has become one of Australia’s finest classical singers.

The ACO program was a cleverly conceived program of vocal and orchestral works, the performers sequed from one piece to the next with barely a pause, maintaining a sense of momentum and contrast. The vocal pieces highlighted Nicole’s versatility and range. In all of them she displayed focused clarity, impressive agility and strength across her tessitura.

It was all about drama in the first half. In Mozart’s Basta, vincesti – Ah, non lasciarmi, no and Beethoven’s Ah! perfido, Nicole’s strong tempo, dynamic contrasts and expressive intensity captured the music’s range and despair. Beethoven’s great concert aria Ah! perfido is a tall order for the most accomplished of singers. Its shifting moods require a soprano of imagination, who must move believably between fury, tenacity and despair while also retaining a sense of the aria’s overall arc. Nicole met the challenge with spirit.

In the second half, in Verdi’s Ave Maria from Otello and Mozart’s Misera, dove son! – Ah! non son io che parlo, Nicole’s pure timbre and long-breathed phrasing conveyed her characters’ sadness and suffering. The concert final aria, Mozart’s Chi sà, chi sà, qual sia was a display of virtuosic coloratura. In the encore, Beethoven’s No, non turbati… Ma tu tremi, o mio Tesoro?, the rosy bloom of Nicole’s soprano was simply lovely.

Throughout, Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra provided sensitive accompaniments. Satü Vänskä had ample opportunity to show off the ACO’s newest family member, a 1726 Stradivarius, in a rich account of Beethoven’s Romance in F. With a sweetness of tone and some affecting phrasing, she brought pearliness to the high notes, easily handling the intricate interplay with the orchestra. The ACO was in fine fettle here, paying attention to the tricky double-dotted notes.

Satü Vänskä and the ACO at Sydney Opera House

It was a great night out! Big smiles all around 🙂

Ásgeir @ Melbourne Recital Centre

Little bears are at the Melbourne Recital Centre for the Ásgeir concert.

Ásgeir was 20 years old in 2014 when he became an overnight sensation with the release of his first all-English album In the Silence. The album became the fastest selling debut from a home-grown artist in Iceland, breaking all previous records and outselling Björk and Sigur Ros. Last year, Ásgeir released his second album, Afterglow, with a more melancholic electronica sound, and a departure from the folk-tinged acoustics of In the Silence. On both albums, Ásgeir collaborated with producer Guðmundur Kristinn Jónsson and his father, renowned poet Einar Georg Einarsson who is credited with writing the lyrics for Afterglow, alongside long-time musical collaborators Thorsteinn (Ásgeir’s brother) and Julius Robertsson.

When he was seventeen, Ásgeir held his nation’s record for the longest javelin throw. A future as an athlete seemed fairly secure. But a back injury threw a wrench into that dream, and he focused on his second love, music. By 2012, he had the bestselling album in Iceland, Dyrd í dauðathogn, a record of ethereal melody and melancholic meditation. An estimated 10 per cent of Iceland’s population of 323,002 bought his 2012 debut album. Two years later he recorded his vocals in English and rereleased the album as In The Silence, under the name Ásgeir. The album re-release in English made him one of Iceland’s major exports, along with raw aluminium and fish fillets. His indie-folk hipster vibe ensured a cult following in the United Kingdom, France, Japan and Denmark and it’s easy to hear why – its mix of organic instrumentation, lilting electronics and Ásgeir’s otherworldly voice hits a sweet spot between emotion and mystique. It’s a chemistry he’s kept bubbling on his follow-up album, Afterglow, which sounds a little livelier than his first album. It’s on the cusp of being positively cheery!, with elements of electronic music and a whiff of pop.

One of the most remarkable things about Ásgeir’s album In The Silence is the fact that his father, the poet Einar Georg Einarsson, wrote the lyrics. He’s also contributed words to Afterglow, as has Ásgeir’s brother Steini. It’s an odd choice for a young, international pop star, yet it makes sense considering Ásgeir’s childhood in a village of only forty people. There’s a tight-knit intimacy and soulfulness to the album that feels familial and warm, even as the music itself carries a glacial chill. There’s nothing conventional or expected about Afterglow, an album that submerges all ego and blissfully loses itself in oceanic imagery and crystalline soundscapes. At the same time, the songs are instantly familiar, like old friends, departed loves, or bittersweet remembrances. Ásgeir may no longer be hurling record-setting javelins, but in a gentler way, his songs soar even farther.

Afterglow album cover

Ásgeir struggled with his sudden success, at home and abroad. He won album of the year at the Iceland Music Awards and outsold the first offerings of Bjork and Sigur Ros. But the prospect of having to replicate that success froze him up. There was a big period where he didn’t feel inspired at all and was questioning why he was forcing himself to make music. To find inspiration, he went back where he grew up, wandering about the fiords and mountains, planting trees and tossing javelins. Where he grew up listening to Nirvana in his garage and composing music and recording songs with haunting melodies and gibberish English lyrics.

In the village near the sea that Ásgeir Trausti Einarsson calls home, there are six streets, 40 people and more sheep than anyone cares to count. The Icelandic ocean in springtime is inky blue and frigid. He would sit on the black sand, watching people run from the water screaming.

The 39 other residents of Laugarbakki, a remote dot in the country’s northwest, are mostly aged farmers and retirees. It is isolated, quiet and a little like living in a nursing home requiring low-level care. Ásgeir loves it.

Yay, the concert is about to start!

Photo by Anne-Laure Marie

The music is melancholic, contemplative and eerily beautiful, like a beach in bad weather. Ásgeir is not much of a performer, he doesn’t get the crowd going, he doesn’t say much at all to the audience. They don’t seem to care.

Photo by Anne-Laure Marie
Photo by Anne-Laure Marie

A-Maze-ing Day on Mornington Peninsula

It’s another sunny Saturday in Melbourne and little bears are exploring The Ashcombe Maze & Lavender Gardens on Mornington Peninsula.

This looks like a good place to play hide and seek!

I’m hiding, I’m hiding…

…nine, ten! Ready or not, here I come!

Puffles, I found you! 🙂

Where did the girls go?

Hee, hee…

Do you have to climb every tree?

We’ll climb down soon…

Not soon enough!

Honey, Isabelle, where are you hiding now?

Hee, hee…

All that hide and seek made little bears hungry…

Café at Ashcombe Maze & Lavender Gardens

Close by the Ashcombe Maze & Lavender Gardens is the Montalto Vineyard & Olive Grove with a sculpture trail.

I Generation, by Liz Walker and Adam Hoss Ayres
Montalto Sculpture Trail
I Generation, by Liz Walker and Adam Hoss Ayres
Montalto Sculpture Trail
I’ve Got This Chicken Legs, by Jimmy Rix
Montalto Sculpture Trail
Montalto Sculpture Trail
Artist to Antarctica, by Hannah Kidd
Montalto Sculpture Trail
Artist to Antarctica, by Hannah Kidd
Montalto Sculpture Trail

Time for a little rest, at McCrae Beach Huts.

Brickman Awesome

Awesome Truck (9,077 bricks, 53 hours)
Windsor Castle (23,112 bricks, 102 hours)
Monsters, Inc. Scare Door (2,527 bricks, 26 hours)
Stradivarius Violin (1,236 bricks, 20 hours)
The Simpson TV (3,312 bricks, 32 hours)
Harley-Davidson 2018 “Forty-Eight” Motorcycle (64,334 bricks, 211 hours)
Full size model
Harley-Davidson 2018 “Forty-Eight” Motorcycle (64,334 bricks, 211 hours)
Full size model
Peregrine Falcon (5,380 bricks, 42 hours)
Emperor Penguins (14,200 bricks, 98 hours)
Koala (19,380 bricks, 53 hours)
Koala (19,380 bricks, 53 hours)
Orca (14,200 bricks, 98 hours)
Orca (14,200 bricks, 98 hours)
Australian Saltwater Crocodile (39,644 bricks, 130 hours)
Australian Saltwater Crocodile (39,644 bricks, 130 hours)
Original Ferris Wheel (41,232 bricks, 120 hours)
Toyota Camry (500,000+ bricks, 900 hours)
Full size model
Toyota Camry (500,000+ bricks, 900 hours)
Full size model
Antonov 225 Aeroplane (94,380 bricks, 195 hours)
Icebreaker RSV Nuyina (113,098 bricks, 237 hours)
Caterpillar 797 Mining Truck (61,399 bricks, 53 hours)
Sydney Opera House (41,034 bricks, 204 hours)
Sydney Opera House (41,034 bricks, 204 hours)
Eiffel Tower (62,350 bricks, 190 hours)
Back to the Future DeLorean (65,143 bricks, 290 hours)
Back to the Future DeLorean (65,143 bricks, 290 hours)
Tardis (75,000 bricks, 300 hours)
NASA Space Launch System (460,323 bricks, 563 hours)

Dinner by Heston

Little bears are out for dinner to try out the Cherry Isle Bar at Dinner by Heston.

At Dinner by Heston Blumenthal every item on the menu has a celebrated historical connection and fascinating backstory.

Apparently Australia’s oldest chocolate bar, Cherry Ripe, was actually inspired by a song – a rhythmic rambling of the 17th century English poet Robert Herrick, with the same name Cherry-Ripe. It was a story too good to be ignored by a Heston Blumenthal restaurant.

Ashley Palmer-Watts, group executive chef of Dinner by Heston restaurants, stumbled upon the story during a trip to Australia in 2016 when he met renowned food historian Professor Barbara Santich. In Melbourne to make some changes to the menu, Ashley asked the professor what she thought was the most iconic Aussie sweet. It had to be the Cherry Ripe, she replied.

Having never tasted a Cherry Ripe, Ashley headed straight for a convenience store, bought one, and slowly and carefully studied each bite of a bar usually speedily devoured by its fans. From there, it was off to the test kitchen to draw from these iconic flavours and make something really special, while keeping the theatre of the bar’s history.

After playing around with countless kilos of cherries, chocolate, coconut and other well-matched flavour compounds, the Cherry Isle Bar was born, and it’s a beauty.

Cherry Isle Bar
(Chocolate, coconut, ripe cherry, almond & bay leaf ice cream)

Although inspired by the Cherry Ripe, it’s unique and like nothing you’ll have tasted before. Says Ashley: “If you can deliver something familiar but that still has a surprise, that’s a brilliant thing to do in a dish.”

So what actually goes into a Cherry Isle Bar?

Cherry Isle Bar
(Chocolate, coconut, ripe cherry, almond & bay leaf ice cream)

It starts with a coconut cake soaked in coconut rum (which, of course, Dinner by Heston brews itself). A morello cherry jam is spread over a piece of the cake, which is then topped with cherries soaked in Amarena (a black-cherry-based digestive). This is then encased in a very smooth Valrhona chocolate mousse and set into the spherical bar that floats on a light and crispy chocolate and coconut biscuit. Now here comes the mega-fun part. Using a paint spray gun (yes, just like one from the hardware store), the bar is coated with chocolate and cocoa butter to give a velvety finish. Finally, to prove this ain’t no ordinary chocolate bar, it’s paired with cherry and coconut gels, grated coconut and almonds, and an almond-and-bay-leaf-infused ice cream.

Before desert, little bears had to eat their veggies 🙂

Meat Fruit
(Mandarin, chicken liver parfait & grilled bread)
Duck & Bottled Cherries
(Smoked beetroot, grilled red cabbage & pickled cherries)

And for being such good little bears, they got an extra complimentary desert 🙂

Chocolate ganache infused with French earl grey tea and carroway seed biscuits

🐾 🐾 🐾 🐾 🐾 🙂

Groovy Night Out

That was groovy!

Totally!

After possibly the longest, and most successful, bus ride around the world ever taken, the pink bus has returned to Melbourne and little Puffles and Jay went to Regent Theatre to see it 🙂

With a few song updates (including a lot more Kylie), Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is still the feel good show that will have you dancing in your seat. The story is the same, simple yet moving, and there are more snappy one-liners than a RuPaul’s Drag Race recap video. With central themes of identity, belonging and acceptance, the narrative follows two Sydney drag artists and a retired Les Girl trekking across the Nullarbor to perform at an Alice Springs casino…all with their own motives.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is the crowning achievement of Australian commercial musical theatre. When the stage version of Stephan Elliott’s 1994 film premiered back in 2006 it was expected to have broad appeal, but few would have anticipated its ongoing success. Twelve years later, the musical has played every major theatre market around the world – Broadway, the West End, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Canada, Brazil, Italy, Ireland, Sweden, Israel, Argentina, Korea, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, France, Japan, Spain, Greece, North America, the United Kingdom and on the high seas with Norwegian Cruise Lines!
Future international productions include seasons in Copenhagen, Munich, Mexico City, and return tours to Japan, Korea, Italy, France and the United Kingdom for the third time.

This return Australian tour is a victory lap of sorts for this beloved show, capturing all of the joy of that premiere production. The shows features a dazzling array of more than 500 costumes, 200 headdresses and a non-stop hit parade of dance-floor classics including It’s Raining Men (replacing the former opening number Downtown), I Will Survive, I Love The Nightlife and Finally. The show is a little slicker in its storytelling and execution and has more glitter in its wake than ever.

The 1994 film starring Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce remains one of Australia’s most successful films and soundtracks of all-time with a swag of awards in the trophy cabinet, including an Oscar for Best Costume Design. Whether you’ve seen the film or not – and if not, what have you even been doing for the last two and a half decades? – the stage version stands on its own two feet as a funny and surprisingly touching jukebox musical, packed with camp disco classics. The plot follows that of the film closely: Sydney drag queens, Mitzi (David Harris) and Felicia (Euan Doidge), and an older transgender performer, Bernadette (Tony Sheldon), travel in a ramshackle bus to Alice Springs, where they’ve been booked for a show. It’s a typical fish-out-of-water tale as the trio encounter the outback and its inhabitants. But it goes deeper than that – Mitzi is secretly travelling to meet his son for the first time and is worried he’ll be rejected when his boy learns of his life in drag.

David Harris (Mitzi) – Priscilla Queen of the Desert
David Harris (Mitzi), Tony Sheldon (Bernadette) and Euan Doidge (Felicia) – Priscilla Queen of the Desert

The quintessentially Aussie story about mateship, self-discovery and acceptance was translated from screen to stage by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, with the film’s acclaimed costume designers Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner onboard, alongside stage designer Brian Thomson and co-choreographers Ross Coleman and Andrew Hallsworth. The 10th anniversary production is musically directed by Stephen Gray and directed once again by Simon Phillips, who has recently worked his magic on other homegrown Australian musicals including Muriel’s Wedding, Dreamlover, Ladies in Black and the Australian re-imagining of Love Never Dies.

Tony Sheldon (Bernadette) – Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Tony Sheldon, has not only starred in this show for more than 1700 performances in Australia, London and on Broadway, but has now put a career on hold in New York to come back to Australia and do it again, more than a decade after he first strapped on the heels to play the sassy Bernadette in the show. Coming home to play the role for a whole new generation was never in doubt. The show has evolved since it first opened in Sydney in 2006, songs have come and gone, gags have come and gone but according to Sheldon there is something very special about playing it to a local crowd no matter which incarnation it is. The audience gets all the references in Australia. The show has to be modified everywhere else because the audience doesn’t understand the Australian references.

Little bears loved the show!

Now, where to find costumes like this…. 🙂