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BWW Review: CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS at Adelaide Zoo

Works by Camille Saint-Saens and Sergei Prokofiev.

BWW Review: CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS at Adelaide ZooReviewed by Ewart Shaw, Sunday 31st January 2021

Following the delightful production of Into the Woods, with real woods, Elephant in the Room Productions has given Adelaide Carnival of the Animals, with real animals. Jamie Moffatt, artistic director and ringmaster of the company, is applying welcome imagination to the works he produces and the venues in which he presents them.

Not having been to visit my relatives in ages, not since a delightful bat mitzvah party quite a few years back, I was pleased to see what's been going on. The entry point, on Plane Tree Drive, is by the shop and leads you to the rotunda, the cafe, and a very nice lawn, where the concert took place.

The excitement began even before the music. I was sitting towards the back of the lawn at a table under a shady tree. Behind me, across the path, was the pelican pond. Many of the audience had brought their own kittens, puppies, and puggles, who clustered around the birds, who responded by putting on a show of their own, spreading out their wings. All went well until someone dropped their mobile phone in the pool, and a pelican, evidently from the laughter, scooped it up in its beak.

The Carnival, written by Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) is a set of musical postcards of the zoo's attractions and the composer wrote in many musical jokes. The Tortoises, for example, dance the Offenbach galop at their most leisurely pace. It also includes that ballet favourite, The Swan.

The core of the instrumental forces was provided by the Amicus string quartet: Carolyn Lam and Louise Beaston, violins, Asha Stephenson, viola and Jacqueline Finlay, 'cello. In the years they've been together, they've played for thousands of weddings and other events. They can be heard in the free Tuesday lunchtime concerts at the Flinders Street Baptist Church. Each member of the quartet also brings to the carnival their own fish and animal references.

The two pianists, Thomas Saunders and Simon Pazos Quintana, made their presence felt right from the start and really showed off in the rapid passages that Saint-Saens wrote for them, especially as the composer had added them to the list of animals celebrated in the work. Compliment or insult, you be the judge. I'm certain that piece about Personages with Long Ears was only about donkeys and not music critics. Clarinetist, Nicole Molloy, partnered percussionist, Andrew Wiering, in the Fossils, and Linda Pirie's flute fluttered energetically above the ensemble in the Aviary. Sean Renaud, double bass, was suitably ponderous as The Elephant, and Jamie Moffatt read the famous Ogden Nash verses, including the notorious rhyming of 'boomerang' and 'kangaroo meringue'.

The Danse Macabre, by Saint-Saens, was suitably scary. By the time we reached the last work on this short program, some of the smaller audience members were getting restless, but those childfree among us sat back for a real treat. Prokofiev tells the tale of the boy, Peter, who goes out of the garden and puts himself and the duck at risk from the Wolf. Jamie Moffatt narrated discreetly. The flute and clarinet shone above the strings, and that delightful opening promenade theme is one of the composer's most gracious introductions. Andrew Wiering conducted from the podium and played percussion, simultaneously. Both Danse Macabre and Peter and the Wolf were arranged by Queensland composer, John Rotar.

Sound engineer Sam Lench is to be thanked for his skillful work in the open-air venue and the Cannon family lent the technical system developed for Acis and Galatea.

Photography: Jack Parker Visuals


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