Category Archives: Out And About

A Night at the Opera

WA Opera – Lucia di Lammermoor

Donizetti composed his operas at a frantic pace, at the rate of five a year and around 70 in all. His L’Elisir d’Amore had been composed in a couple of weeks. He is said to have composed Don Pasquale in eight days, or at any rate in less than a month. It took rather longer to bring Lucia di Lammermoor to the stage – about four months – but that was mainly because the theatre in Naples, the San Carlo, was virtually bankrupt. The Lucia, the ‘incomparable’ Fanny Persiani, one of the greatest sopranos, refuse to rehearse until paid; and Donizetti himself almost went on strike.

The premiere of Lucia di Lammermoor was on 26 September 1835. Donizetti had composed the music as fast as his librettist, Salvatore Cammarano, the official ‘poet’ at the San Carlo, could write the words. Donizetti had begun work during the previous June. The score was finished on 6 July, but it was not until 20 August that it was finally accepted by the management.

Lucia di Lammermoor is the ‘archetype of Italian Romantic opera’, and it might almost be regarded as an absurd parody, if it were not for the extraordinarily effective and dramatic Mad Scene, in particular.

The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott, who had very recently died and whose novels were still the rage at the time, was used as a basis, although not in much more than outline. This was not the first time Scott’s story had been used: around six years earlier Paris had first seen a version of the story in an opera by a composer in the second division, Michele Carafa. Even before that, there had been a version in Denmark, in which the fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen was involved.

As the story of Romeo and Juliet, the lovers come from different sides of warring factions. Scott based his tale on an incident in the life of a top lawyer in Scotland, Lord Stair, from the Dalrymple family. His daughter had pledged herself to marry someone other than the person her family forced her to marry. She stabbed the bridegroom and was discovered, as Scott wrote, “dabbled in gore”.

Lucia was a great success. In Paris, one commentator reported that “it is a miracle; Donizetti has succeeded in electrifying the dead”. It became one of the most universally popular operas of the 19th century. Great novelists have used it to colour dramatic moments in their works. It arises in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary when she is at the opera with her dull husband, and her former lover returns into her life. It features in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina when the heroine, a fallen woman, caused a sensation and was snubbed at the opera house. E.M. Forster chooses Lucia di Lammermoor as the opera the English people see in Where Angels Fear to Thread. The opera signifies the intrusion of foreigners into Italy: a Scottish story set to music by an Italian. The Italians in the audience take the story into their hearts, reacting freely and enthusiastically. In contrast, the English — themselves foreigners in Italy — bring their own attitudes and prejudices to the opera as they have brought them to Italy in general.

WA Opera – Emma Pearson as Lucia

In one of the great contradictions of the opera world, the Scottish set production is sung in Italian with English surtitles.

In England it was also a sensation and, although expensive to stage, it became a great standby. It was beloved of audiences but less acclaimed by critics. Indeed, it became sufficiently hackneyed that the playwright and critic Bernard Shaw became utterly fed up with it. He suggested that it needed some element of comic relief, such as a “highlander with a fling and a burlesque chorus to liven the precepts of Raimondo”. Earlier a leading critic in London had taken a dim view: “Never was a story so full of suggestion for music tamed into such insipid nothingness, even by an Italian librettist, as this.”

The title role has attracted an unending succession of high sopranos. Lucia is a role that makes huge demands on a soprano’s stamina: she has to retain enough energy through the demands of Acts I and II in order to carry off Act III’s famous Mad Scene – a breathtaking display containing a stratospheric virtuoso cadenza accompanied by glass harmonica. In the 20th century, Joan Sutherland was perhaps the most famous exponent: her ability to sing her Mad Scene while running among the wedding guests greatly enhanced the effectiveness. Sutherland’s sensational opening night performance in Zeffirelli’s 1959 Covent Garden production of Lucia made her a star.

And he who sings Edgardo knows that he has the final scene, “the darling of tenor singers”, almost entirely to himself. Pavarotti, aged twelve, was inspired by Gigli singing Edgardo. And later, with Sutherland’s help, he himself made his American debut in 1965 in the role, filling in for another tenor who had cancelled at the last minute. Three years earlier, Domingo had made his American debut in the role of the unfortunate Arturo, and later went on to sing Edgardo opposite Lily Pons (who had sung opposite Gigli thirty years before that!) and, of course, opposite Sutherland.

Whatever view one takes about the quality of the music, there is no doubting that Lucia can be great entertainment, a truly great show. It requires a star ‘coloratura’ performance from the soprano and an excellent production. Lucia’s nuptial nightie needs to be suitably “dabbed in gore” and the baronial hall, the fountain and the Wolf’s Crag suitably “gothick”. Oh, and the kilts need to be of suitable tartan.

Donizetti composed during the era of the coloratura soprano who, “with great ability and a high range, is able to warble rapidly and neatly in the most acrobatic fashion.” The melody is elaborately decorated, with runs, trills and arpeggios, much of it at the top range (tessitura) of the voice.

Another expression that is sometimes applied to Donizetti’s music, and even more to that of Bellini, is bel canto, meaning ‘beautiful voice’ or ‘beautiful singing’, connoting long, lyrical lines of melody. As with coloratura, pigeon-hole terms such as this can be confusing, because bel canto is a phrase which we may also find applied to lyrical and florid music of the much earlier baroque period.

In the Italian opera of the early 19th century, the orchestra has a merely supportive role and the human voice reigns supreme. Bellini, the composer of La Sonnambula and Norma (both produced around four years before Lucia), was perhaps the greatest exponent of bel canto, and for a long time it was claimed that he had inspired Donizetti in his composition of Lucia. It has been said that “emotions are created by variations in the melodic line itself – its rhythms, its intervals, its speed, its phrasing and particularly by the shadings and dynamics of the human voice.” However, despite this, the objective much of the time seems to be a glittering vocal display by a celebrity coloratura.

An earlier, well-known example of coloratura is provided by the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, who, after a few top C’s and D’s, should reach top F, although sometimes not altogether successful. The spectacular cadenza in Lucia’s Mad Scene ends on high E flat.

Donizetti is sometimes reported as having said that he wrote Lucia as a monument to Bellini. The claim is improbably because the premiere of Lucia was three days after Bellini’s untimely death in curious circumstances outside Paris. The two composers were actually fiercely competitive: Bellini regarded Donizetti as a musical hack who deliberately sacrificed quality for money while Donizetti accused Bellini of being a musical sponger upon elderly wealthy ladies.

The Bride of Lammermoor was published in 1819. A dramatized version was staged in London less than two weeks after the appearance of the novel. By the time Donizetti came to it, “it was one of the best-known works of fiction in all Western Europe”. A modern marketing professional could probably not have suggested a more eye-catching title for a West End show.

The libretto is a travesty of Scott’s novel, which brims with imagination and humour, especially when characterising the parvenu Ashtons and the aristocratically threadbare Ravenswoods. Scott’s dénouement, from the start of the wedding, takes around a twentieth of his novel, whereas it absorbs a third of the opera. Indeed, the climax and focus of the opera, Lucia’s madness, is disposed of in about fifteen lines. Cammarano, the librettist, finds room to include a hunt and a thunderstorm (both conventional in musical settings), but he bypasses witches, a grave-digger, the appearance of the ghost – all of which were considered possibly too colourful for an art-form where the technicolour is supposed to be provided by the music.

The librettist’s task is far more difficult than it may seem. For Scott, Lucy’s formidable and detestable mother, and her wily father, a lawyer, are the cause of the disastrous events at Lammermoor. Again, they are perhaps too starkly drawn to fit easily into an opera. The character of Lucy, pale and palely drawn, is more convenient: she is a “winsome, sweet creature, soft and flexible, exquisitely beautiful” who has a predictable tendency to tremble of faint.

One can perhaps sympathise with Cammarano having his primo uomo stab himself. Even though the novel foretold that he would ride into the quicksands on the Kelpie’s Flow, such an end would have been considerably more difficult to stage.

Mad scenes were fashionable in Donizetti’s time and their likes are found in his Anna Bolena, Lucrezia Borgia and Maria Stuarda, and also in Bellini’s Il Pirata, La Sonnambula and I Puritani.

It was quite normal for a soprano to insert an elaborate coloratura cadenza at the end of any great aria. So one should not be surprised that Donizetti did not compose the formidably demanding cadenza in which Lucia echoes the flute. Some say it was created by Teresa Brambilla (1813-1895), the first Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto. Another view is that it was composed by Mathilde Marchesi for Nellie Melba’s 1889 performance at the Opera Garnier in Paris. In the last hundred years, it has been the highlight of the opera.

WA Opera – Emma Pearson as Lucia

The vocal line in the Mad Scene runs the risk of sounding merely like an acrobatic display of technical brilliance. As Sutherland’s biographer described it, “There is the crooning softness of the feebleminded; the shrinking fear of the hallucinated; the joyous rapture of the deluded – but no strident madness.” In the Zeffirelli production with Sutherland in February 1959, instead of the music just being a soprano echoing the flute in the pit, the music was presented as “distracting sounds that Lucia imagined she heard and, having imagined, repeated .. notes that existed only in a destroyed mind.”

Donizetti employed a rare instrument to accompany Lucia through her delusional Mad Scene: the glass harmonica, first popularised by the Irish musician Richard Pockrich in the 1740s. Gluck played a similar instrument and Handel, Mozart, Beethoven and Richard Strauss composed for it. But Donizetti’s use of the glass harmonica is virtually unique in opera. Significantly, the device was alleged (without scientific proof) to cause madness in those exposed to it, both musicians and audiences. This may have first prompted Donizetti to associate Lucia’s madness with the glass harmonica, as well as to subsequently withdraw it and allot its extensive cadenzas to the flute.

Lucia’s Mad Scene does not conclude the opera. This either annoys the soprano (as it did Fanny Persiani), because the Edgardo in the final scene gets the final applause, or it provides an anticlimax to the opera because the tenor is no match for her.

Lucia has been described as “Donizetti’s finest work”, “it’s composer’s masterpiece”.

Many would disagree with this view on the quality of the music, including his contemporary Bellini. However, Berlioz, who took a dim view of Italian opera generally, with its gay and brilliant music that was often inappropriate to the circumstances, makes an exception for Lucia, in which he admired the pathos in the Act 2 sextet Chi mi frena in tal momento, and the final scene of the opera.

The sextet was rapturously applauded at the opera’s premiere, went on to influence such composers as Verdi and was one of the first ever opera ensembles to be recorded. Its fame is easy to understand: the sextet, and its ensuing finale, are archetypal examples of beautiful, complex music used at a crucial dramatic turning point.

Lucia’s brother Enrico is horrified to learn she has fallen in love with his sworn enemy Edgardo. Enrico tricks Lucia into believing that Edgardo has been unfaithful and hastily arranges her marriage to his associate Arturo. The moment Lucia signs the wedding contract she feels a terrible foreboding, highlighted by dramatic orchestral tremolos. She is right to do so – seconds later, Edgardo bursts in, interrupting the wedding party and briefly shocking everyone into silence.

Lucia murders Arturo in their wedding bed. His death is followed first by Lucia’s, and then by Edgardo’s.

WA Opera – Lucia’s anger-fuelled brother Enrico was given a fiery performance by Samuel Dundas

The sextet opens with a duet between Edgardo and Enrico, in which Edgardo expresses pity and enduring love for Lucia, and Enrico expresses remorse for his treachery. The men’s closely linked vocal lines show how, for the first time, these two enemies are united in compassion. Lucia then takes up the melody, shadowed by the chaplain Raimondo. Lucia is too unhappy even to weep; Raimondo fears an evil end to the day, and pities her. Meanwhile, Edgardo and Enrico reiterate their feelings in short asides. The sextet grows richer in texture and the range of emotions expand as we discover each character’s reaction to the shocking event.

WA Opera – As Lucia and her politically unsuitable lover Edgardo, Emma Pearson and Aldo di Toro lived up to expectations.

The textures become richer still as the chorus join in (doubled by Arturo and Lucia’s companion Alisa – in terms of solo lines the sextet is really a quartet), expressing fear and pity for Lucia. As the emotional temperature rises, Lucia’s increasingly broken phrases and anguished repeated high notes show her deepening distress. This heightens still further in the sextet’s closing bars as – following a short unaccompanied passage for her still-remorseful brother and lover – she soars to her highest note in the sextet, closing the ensemble in a mood of profound despair.

In the ensuing section – a bridge between the sextet and the finale – the male characters’ energy and purpose returns, with steady figures in the strings providing a sense of constant momentum. Arturo and Enrico square up to their old enemy Edgardo, who vows not to leave without a struggle. Raimondo breaks in, reminding everyone to slow, majestic chords that ‘God abhors murderers’. He shows Edgardo Lucia’s wedding contract. With cold dignity, Edgardo asks Lucia if she signed it. Lucia quietly answers ‘yes’. In a dramatic unaccompanied phrase, Edgardo declares that Lucia has betrayed both Heaven and love.

The musical tension rises almost unbearably in the ensuing rapid finale. Edgardo repeatedly curses Lucia in a high-lying, declamatory line; she can only respond with a wordless cry to his furious “May God destroy you!”. The chorus, Enrico, Raimondo and Arturo launch into the stretta (rapid concluding passage, here in the rhythm of a fiery tarantella), repeatedly ordering Edgardo to leave. In a poignant aside, Lucia and Edgardo sing lyrically in unison, Lucia praying for Edgardo’s safety, Edgardo longing for death. Their lamentations soar above the chorus’s furious denunciations as the finale speeds to its frantic end, closing with a final high-pitched cry of anguish from Lucia.

Lucia di Lammermoor’s Act II sextet and finale is both the most musically complex section of the opera, and a moving and convincing depiction of a range of passionate emotions. It is also the opera’s dramatic lynchpin. Everything that happens in Act III – Arturo’s murder, Lucia’s collapse and subsequent death and Edgardo’s suicide – are a direct result of this scene’s action.

WA Opera has bought the set and costumes of John Copley’s 1980 production of Lucia di Lammermoor from Opera Australia and dusted off the production as part of their Fiftieth Anniversary season in a nod to Joan Sutherland, the company’s first patron. There are benefits and disadvantages to reviving a much-loved museum piece. The castle set is rich with detail but requires lengthy set changes (an entirely manual undertaking at WA Opera), while the costumes are lavish but outdated and unflattering. Although the kilts are made of suitable tartan!

WA Opera Lucia di Lammermoor Review

The Name of the Game

Is play!

ABBA! Europe! Roxette! Ace of Base! Neneh Cherry! Robyn! Avicii! Zara Larsson!

Sweden is the home country of all these popular musicians and bands. Also popular songs from stars like Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Backstreet Boys and Celine Dion, have been written and produced by Swedes. Songwriters and producers Max Martin (Karl Martin Sandberg) and Denniz Pop (Dag Krister Volle) have penned catchy pop tunes for Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Pink, Usher, Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync and even Bon Jovi. Producer Shellback has topped Billboard’s 2012 chart as the #1 producer and has written for Maroon 5. RedOne (Nadir Khayat) has written for Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga (Just Dance, Poker Face, Love Game, Bad Romance and Alejandro), Pitbull, and One Direction.

Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeuwas, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad – ABBA

ABBA is the most famous of them all. It’s a phenomenon no one would have predicted in 1982, when the band seemed to be heading for oblivion.

The little dancing queens discovered ABBA Downstairs @ The Maj.

Chiquitita and Fernando

Chiquitita and Fernando are “Sweden’s hottest musical export” along with their friends, ABBA, Europe, Roxette and Ace of Base. They constantly tour world-wide. How fortunate we were to be able to see them in the intimacy of the cabaret room Downstairs @ The Maj.

Chiquitita and Fernando

Chiquitita and Fernando were fabulously funny. Fernando impeccable at the piano and providing backing vocals for the inimitable Chiquitita. He was the perfect foil to her theatrical gestures and absolutely accurate 80’s dance moves.

Chiquitita and Fernando

Thirty-five years after ABBA hung up their white cowboy boots and pink hotpants and retired, their songs are more popular than ever.
Every year about three million ABBA CDs are sold, and the stage musical based on their songs, Mamma Mia!, has been a smash hit worldwide. This year it is returning to Australia for its third run.

Mamma Mia! the musical opened in London’s West End on April 6, 1999 – 25 years to the day after Waterloo had triumphed at Eurovision. It debuted in Australia in June 2001, playing for four years. We saw it in 2003. It was back for the 10th anniversary tour in 2009 and it’s back again later this year through to 2018. Time to see it again. Glitter is little Honey and little Isabelle’s favourite colour 🙂

Sweden’s victors after their success in the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton with “Waterloo”, sung by the two girls in the pop group ABBA – Agnetha Faltskog (Anna), second from left, and Annifrid Lyngstad (Frida).
The other group members, who composed the song, are Bjorn Ulvaeus, left and Benny Andersson, secong right. Centre is Stig Andersson, who wrote the lyric, and on right, in Napoleon costume, is musical director Sven-Olof Walldoff.

It was 1974 when ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest at the Brighton Dome with Waterloo. The song became a huge international hit and was the starting point of their legendary international career. Over 30 years after it won, Waterloo was voted the best Eurovision Song Contest song ever at the 50-year anniversary show Congratulations, in Copenhagen in autumn 2005.

Despite the huge success of Waterloo, ABBA took some time to establish themselves as chart fixtures. Follow-up singles Honey Honey and I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do had little success, but SOS re-established them in the charts in late 1975. By the end of 1976, the band had achieved superstardom with hit singles Fernando, Money Money Money and Dancing Queen.

In 1977, ABBA undertook their second concert tour, in Europe and Australia. Beginning on January 28 in Oslo (Norway) through March 12, 1977 (Perth, Australia), it was the first time the Scandinavian quartet performed their hits to massive audiences outside Europe. The Australian leg was to be the most memorable, with fan-frenzy scenes later immortalized in Lasse Hallström’s ABBA: The Movie, released in 1977.

The band take a bow after their final show in Perth, Australia, in March 1977. Photograh: Polar Music International

Unlike some international acts, ABBA did not bring a stripped-down version of their show to Australia to save on costs. It was the first of the big stadium tours that would follow. They had the latest sound system with them, amazing lighting, an incredible inflatable roof that went over the stage (which helped with the rain during the Sydney concert) and hydraulics on the stage so everything could go up and down. It was the beginning of what concerts have become now. And they had a 100-plus entourage with them.

All this came at a price — $9 per ticket! That apparently was a lot in 1977. Still, $9 in 1977 is about $36 today, and nowhere near the hundreds of dollars we pay for concert tickets these days.

Despite the $9 ticket price!!, tickets were sold out and as the tour dates could not be extended, the band agreed to play two shows in one day in Melbourne and (twice) in Perth!

Part of the 100 plus entourage on the Australian tour was a film crew making ABBA the Movie, featuring live footage, mostly filmed in Perth, the only indoor leg of the tour. Director Lasse Hallström would later admit he wrote the storyline on the plane to Australia, based around a journalist trying to interview the band on the Australian tour. Unfortunately that journalist was played by the now disgraced Robert Hughes, who’d later find fame in Hey Dad and infamy and jail time for sexual offences against children. So the movie will not appear on TV in Australia anymore. ABBA the Movie was enormous in Europe when it was released in late 1977. I remember seeing it at the cinema 🙂

In 1982, ABBA split up, but as it turned out, the music was far from over. ABBA have sold more than 370 million records – mostly after they split up. More than 60 million people worldwide have seen Mamma Mia! the musical which is still going strong in London after 18 years.

ABBA has a major revival in Australia in 1994 thanks to the dramedy Muriel’s Wedding. The writer and director of Muriel’s Wedding, P.J. Hogan, scored major music points when he won the rights to use the Swedish band’s catalog for his 1994 film. Twenty-three years later, one of Muriel’s most memorable scenes remains the whimsically digressive talent show dance sequence, wherein new gal pals and ABBA superfans Muriel (Toni Collette) and Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths) flip the finger to the mean girls who tormented them and perform a delightful choreographed rendition of the group’s Waterloo.

While ABBA had achieved huge commercial success from the late 1970s to the dawn of the 1980s, by the end of 1982 ABBA had essentially dissolved, along with their mainstream cool. Ten years later, P.J. Hogan approached songwriting duo Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus to ask for film rights, thinking it’d be an easy pitch. They said no — and not just because Hogan, armed with absolutely zero budget for music rights, had asked to use the songs for free.

“They said no because they’d had a bad experience with another filmmaker who had promised not to make fun of them or their music,” Hogan recalls, citing a Swedish filmmaker who had been granted permission to use Dancing Queen with the proviso that he would treat the song — their biggest hit — with respect. Then they saw the movie and found out they’d been lied to.

In the fallout, the duo issued a blanket “no” to filmmakers. Hogan was persistent, adamant that Muriel’s Wedding could not be made without their music. His final plan: To fly to Stockholm and smoke them out. “I had their address, so I was going to camp outside their offices until they saw me and make my case in person that I’m not that filmmaker and they would be proud of the movie. It’s a hymn to ABBA! Muriel loves ABBA, and I love ABBA. So my producer, being very smart, bought the ticket but sent a photocopy of it to Benny and Bjorn. And the day before I was going to get on the flight, they said, ‘Stop him, you’ve got the rights.’ …They did not want this crazy person hanging outside their office!”

Hogan laughs about his audacious plan in hindsight, but it worked. “They gave me the rights for nothing. Dancing Queen, Fernando, Mamma Mia!, Waterloo — the entire songs, for nothing! And they gave us original mix tapes, with vocals split off from the instrumentals,” Hogan says. “All they asked for were points in the movie, and because none of us thought we were going to make any money, we were happy to give them. And that ended up being a very smart move.”

The happy ending: ABBA’s 1992 compilation album Gold: Greatest Hits (we have 🙂 ) was gaining traction during Hogan’s pitch, and it would eventually become the band’s highest-selling album. In 1994, the bump from Muriel’s Wedding — along with another Aussie ode to ABBA, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, that same year — would revive interest in the group, particularly in the U.S. where Muriel’s Wedding became a cult hit. Hogan beams about the effect. “I think it helped ABBA, and the film would not be Muriel’s Wedding without them. They now had the respect they deserve, and they’d always had trouble in the U.S. market,” he maintains. “Of course, Mamma Mia! ended all of that.”

In a pre-Mamma Mia! world, Muriel’s Wedding offered one of the best uses of ABBA songs with the Waterloo dance. Muriel and Rhonda’s sequence — choreographed by Aussie legend John “Cha Cha” O’Connell — is a GIF-able burst of fun and fashion, the kind of narrative indulgence that some might say would never make the final cut today. It remains one of Hogan’s, Collette’s and Griffiths’ favorite scenes. “I remember that white jumpsuit!” laughs Collette. “I looked like a little dumpling. It was like all jazz hands and Mardi Gras. It was musical theatre in a dramedy, and it was the most elated Muriel had ever been in her life. It was such a jubilant moment.”

Collette and Griffiths rehearsed the Waterloo dance sequence for weeks and shot it in ten hours, but they still managed to find moments of improvisation. One in particular stands out to both Griffiths and Hogan. “My greatest work in Muriel’s Wedding is when I stand in front of Toni and she moves my hair to find the camera,” jokes Griffiths. Hogan explains, “We hadn’t rehearsed with wigs on, and Toni realized that Rachel’s big curly Frida wig was completely blocking her face, so Toni reaches over, moves the hair, and stares straight into the camera. That just made me laugh out loud on set, and that’s in the film. That happened in the moment, and I’m just thankful Rachel didn’t break up when it was happening.”

Then came Mamma Mia! the film adaptation of the ‘jukebox’ musical based on ABBA’s back catalogue of 22 songs, including Dancing Queen, Take A Chance On Me and The Winner Takes It All.

Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog, Frida Reuss and Björn Ulvaeuwas at the premiere of Mamma Mia! in Stockholm, Sweden
Meryl Streep, Agneta Fältskog, Frida Reuss and Christine Baranski at the premiere of Mamma Mia! in Stockholm, Sweden
Pierce Brosnan and Anni-Frid Lyngstad

With ABBA songs and a star-studded cast, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that the film was a hit. Oscar winner Meryl Streep headed the cast playing single mother Donna Sheridan. Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård play the three potential fathers of Donna’s daughter Sophie, played by Amanda Seyfried. Add Julie Walters and Christine Baranski and what more do you need? Certainly not Nicole Kidman who was considered as the lead for the film before Meryl Streep sent a hand-written letter to Björn Ulvaeuwas and Benny Andersson saying how much she had enjoyed Mammia Mia! the musical. They realised that was the age group they should be casting from. And Meryl Streep said yes straight away and that was the ‘open sesame’ for everything.

Mamma Mia! received mixed reviews but made $609.8 million at the box office, from just a $52 million budget. Next year is the tenth year anniversary of the film – can you believe that?!? Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! isn’t just a line from one of ABBA’s hit songs, it’s also going to be the name of the hotly anticipated sequel of the original musical movie.

The sequel, which is already in production, unites many of the first movie’s stars, including Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters and Stellan Skarsgard. This time around there are also a wealth of names aboard to play various characters’ younger selves. Lily James is Young Donna, while Hugh Skinner is Firth’s Young Harry, Jeremy Irvine is Brosnan’s Young Sam, Jessica Keenan Wynn is Baranski’s Young Tanya, Alexa Davies is Walters’ Young Rosie, and Josh Dylan is Skarsgard’s Young Bill.

And, just like the first movie, original members of ABBA Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus have signed on to provide music and lyrics and oversee everything as executive producers.

So why have Abba’s songs developed a massive afterlife that puts them among pop’s all-time greats? In a nutshell, the chirpy, catchy surface sound draws you in, and once you’re in you feel secure because the iron grip of the song’s structure leads you by the hand.

After ABBA’s initial popularity, the next Swedish mega-hit was Europe’s The Final Countdown, released in 1986.

Another Swedish pop group, Roxette, formed in 1986, and achieved international fame in the late 1980s, when they released their breakthrough album Look Sharp!. Their third album Joyride, which was released in 1991, became just as successful as its predecessor.

Marie Fredriksson and Per Gessle – Roxette

Last year, after 30 years, Swedish pop rock duo Roxette have announced the joyride is over, citing the health of singer Marie Fredriksson 😦

Ace of Base released The Sign, the fourth single off their multiplatinum debut album in October 1993. The song has become the band’s most enduring legacy, and it remains compelling evidence that Swedish people are great at writing catchy pop songs.

From ABBA to Icona Pop, from Roxette to Robyn, Sweden’s reputation for pop superiority has spanned decades, and it continues today. But the arrival of Ace of Base helped usher in the Swedish Music Miracle, a period of time from about 1990 to 2003 when Sweden’s musical exports were at their economic peak. A 1999 report from Sweden’s Ministry of Finance found that royalty payments to Sweden from foreign markets were twice the U.S. per capita figure. Today, according to other reports, Sweden is the third-largest music exporter in the world behind the U.S. and the UK. Sweden is the world’s leading exporter of music, in relation to GDP. In 2003, Swedish music exports began to decline, but behind the scenes, the country’s pop talent has remained active. In May of 2012, half of the top 10 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 were written or produced by Swedes.

Interest in music is wide-spread in Sweden. Access to instruments and classes are provided through music schools run by various local municipalities so many children try their hands at different types of instruments to finally find which ones they’re naturally good at.

For those who can carry a tune, many start out in choirs. According to Sveriges Körförbund (the Swedish choir union), roughly 600,000 Swedes sing in choirs, and the union represents about 500 choirs. While these numbers may not seem staggering at first glance, they actually make Sweden the country with the highest number of choirs per capita in the entire world. Sweden’s strong choral tradition comes from a deep-seated culture of singing folk songs, especially around Midsummer and major festivities like Christmas.

Since 1997, the Swedish government has awarded its Music Export Prize in recognition of international musical achievements by Swedes. Past honorees have included Swedish House Mafia, Robyn, members of ABBA, The Hives, The Cardigans, Max Martin and Roxette.

Many Swedish artists take full control of their creative process – from songwriting to owning their own labels and marketing themselves independently – and pop rock sensation Robyn is just one example. She founded Konichiwa Records in 2005 to cover all aspects of her music career such as media management, recording contracts, and her creative process.


Sweden’s annual Melodifestivalen is the most watched TV programme in Sweden, with roughly 4 million viewers out of almost 10 million residents unleashing their inner music critic while voting. More importantly, the winner of Melodifestivalen goes on to represent Sweden in the annual Eurovision Song Contest – the world’s most watched non-sporting event. Sweden has won the Eurovision Song contest six times 1974 (Waterloo, ABBA), 1984 (Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley, Herrey’s), 1991 (Fångad av en stormvind, Carola), 1999 (Take Me to Your Heaven, Charlotte Nilsson), 2012 (Euphoria, Loreen) and 2015 (Heroes, Måns Zelmerlöw).

Bra jobbat, Sverige! Well done, Sweden! Sweden has also hosted the Eurovision Song Contest six times.

Richard and Per Herrey of Herreys (1984), Carola Häggkvist (1991), Måns Zelmerlöw (2015), Loreen (2012) and Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA (1974)
© Frankie Fouganthin

Lunch @ The Kitchen at Bacchanalia

Little bears are out for lunch and they are very excited… I mean, you can just tell from their posture 🙂

They are watching Head Chef Luke Armstrong at work in The Kitchen at Bacchanalia.

After finishing his apprenticeship in Perth, Luke moved to London and spent 10 years honing his skills first with WA chef Shane Osborn at Pied a Terre. Then followed an elevator ride up the ranks of the brigade de cuisine across several Michelin-starred restaurants. There was two-starred The Ledbury in London as well as three-starred Oud Sluis in The Netherlands.

Today, he helms one-Michelin-starred The Kitchen at Bacchanalia. Success has not come easily. An average work day of at least 16 hours left little time to spend with his family. First to get to the kitchen and last to leave makes for a taxing but rewarding job. A Michelin star is an annual accolade and Luke’s focus is already turning to the job of keeping his star next year.

Artichokes risotto with aged Parmesan 40 months
Line caught Bass with pumpkin purée, leeks and lemon veloté
Lemon posset with rhubarb mousse, poached apricot and end of season berries and cherries!

Isabelle and Chef Luke discuss the catering requirements for the many, many beary celebrations 🙂

The bears had a great time at The Kitchen at Bacchanalia. The food was divine and the service outstanding. 🐾 🐾 🐾 🐾