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Monthly Archives: July 2019

Whitely the Opera – Iconic Sydney

A chilly winter night in July in Sydney did not dampen the spirits of this avid theatre goer as I made my way to the Sydney Opera House for a performance of Opera Australia’s Whitely, the new opera by Elena Kats-Chernin and Justin Fleming, in its opening week.

I love visiting our icon of the “Harbour City”. A performance in January, the height of summer is pure magic. A balmy night – the lights of Luna Park, the ferries, a cruise ship, those dark depths of the harbour, and the Bridge. And glistening like pearls in the moonlight, those imposing, beautiful, awe inspiring shells of the Sydney Opera House. But even in winter the experience is magical; the air is clear and crisp and the cityscape more sharply defined.

I am aware of having been part of something quite special when attending the performance this week. Brett Whitely is one of this country’s greatest artists. How to encapsulate his life and his art and his legacy into a work that, because of the vagaries of live theatre, will never remain constant, will always be evolving?

But that is the metaphor. Whitely’s child like insouciance and his will-o’-the-wisp life spark can be conveyed best by performers and musicians, and indeed theatre technicians, producing a highly complex performance night after night, each performance with different nuances, and the audience each night adding its own unique reaction to the work.

I loved the experience. The story unfolds simultaneously through sung narrative, music and visual imagery. All seamlessly flow, propelling the audience through the journey of a life, flamboyant, brilliant, and by no means virtuous. David Freeman as director has created something that will have a life outside of, and long after, this Sydney Opera House season.

While I am not a musician, Kats-Chernin’s score is arresting. This is not an opera to “hum along to”, this is a poignant, beautiful soundtrack to a life. As Kats-Chernin says, in order to capture an unconventional life in music, she had to find something unexpected. “It’s a bit like cooking – you can pair unpredictable things. Salty and sweet together.”

The narrative constructed by playwright Justin Fleming is crystal clear and charts the major periods of Whitely’s life, as well as the relationship with Wendy Whitely, the addiction and the art.

While the majority of the narrative feels very real, in an almost documentary style, the denouement of the opera is less satisfying. Whiteley’s death happens so quickly, before you can take in its significance. The ending, where Wendy creates the Secret Garden at Lavender Bay, is “nice”. But for me and for my opera companion, it seemed somehow to lack the fire and the passion that characterised Whitely’s life and work. 

Visual imagery is lush and gob smacking in its ability to be the partner to the other performance elements. Huge digital screens not only provide the set, they become part of the narrative, the screens moving in and around the space, as images constantly move, grow and dissolve as projections. The towering Whitely works are digitally enlarged on the screens and lose nothing by that enhancement. The exterior and interior location vistas are painterly, and remind us that this is a work about visual art. 

But this is a performance, and it is the performers who really bring this opera to life. The ensemble cast is superb, with so many characters moving in and out of the narrative for a few brief moments each. Julie Lea Goodwin is lithe and athletic, elegant and sexual, reproducing the artistic and eccentric Wendy Whitely, and with accomplished singing.

It was Leigh Melrose’s Whitely that mesmerised me. His highly active performance left me wondering how he could sing from so many tricky physical positions! I could understand every word he sang, and at times I was moved by the sweetness and the poignancy of his voice. He absolutely encapsulated for me the life force that was Brett Whitely.

Whitely at the Opera House on Sydney Harbour. Essential and iconic Sydney.

Whitely : Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Thursday 18 July 2019

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Blood Orange Tea Cakes

I love looking over my posts from previous years, in the equivalent month. This post is originally from July 2017. I note that it was a balmy 21 degrees C. Today in Sydney has been a chilly 16 degrees C. Winter in Sydney can really vary!

This is a recipe for friands, very similar to the French financiers. I have called them tea cakes in this post, just as Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh, in their wonderful book Sweet, describe little cakes that go well with a cup of tea.

This version features wonderful blood oranges, which have just become available in Sydney.

The recipe is really so versatile, you could add lots of different fruit to the basic recipe. Cherries, pears, raspberries and blueberries work well.

Ingredients

6 egg whites, beaten lightly

75g plain flour

240g icing sugar, sifted

125g almond meal

150g melted butter, cooled

Grated zest and juice of a blood orange

10 tablespoons icing sugar or enough to make a thick glaze.

Optional – some salted pistachio praline to decorate*

Slices of blood orange

Method

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C or 160 degrees C fan-forced. Lightly grease 12 friand molds.

Beat the egg whites until frothy with fork in a large mixing bowl.

Sift the flour and icing sugar into the bowl, stir in almond meal and then add the melted butter. Stir in the zest of the blood orange, and the juice of one half of the blood orange.

Spoon the mixture (approximately ¼ cup) into each of the molds.

Bake in preheated oven for 20  minutes until cooked through and golden brown or until a skewer is inserted into centre comes out clean. Sometimes the friands need a few more minutes in the oven to be nice and brown.

To make the glaze, mix the juice of the other half of the blood orange with the icing sugar. You may need to add more or less juice or more or less icing sugar to get the glaze to the right consistency to ice the friands.

Ice the friands with just enough glaze to coat the tops and perhaps to run down the sides a little.

*To make the salted pistachio praline, dissolve a couple of tablespoons of caster sugar in a small frying pan over a medium heat. Don’t stir, or the sugar will crystallize. Once the dissolved sugar has turned to a deep toffee colour, pour the praline over a handful of salted pistachios on some baking paper. Once hard, bash the praline into fragments.

Rustic Pear Tart

It’s winter in Sydney, although for readers in the northern hemisphere our daytime maximums of 19 or 20 degrees C must seem quite balmy!

But winter it is, and that’s why I’m baking pies and tarts. It just seems the right thing to do as the days draw in and the nights become chilly.

This weekend I made a sweet tart. This rustic pear tart is easy and a relatively quick tart to make. I say quick – I added to the process by making my own rough puff pastry. It’s totally worth the effort, but using good quality bought butter puff pastry is probably the sensible way to go! I will include the recipe for both puff and rough puff pastry in another post.

You can whip this up in the afternoon for dinner that night. Or have it as an afternoon tea treat.

Oh by the way, you could use other seasonal winter fruit such as apples or quinces.

Ingredients
3 pears (any kind, I like Beurre Bosc)
2 tablespoons regular sugar + 1 teaspoon for sprinkling
1 quantity butter puff pastry (or you could make your own)
1 free range egg
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon of honey

Method
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C fan forced. Line a large baking tray with baking paper.

Thinly slice the pears, leaving the skin on. This is a rustic tart! Scatter the sugar over the pear slices. If you’re worried about the pears going brown, squeeze a little lemon juice over the top.

If you’re using bought puff pastry, you will need to roll out the pastry on a floured surface to make a rectangle about 35cm x 25 cm. Depending on the brand you have bought, you will either be rolling a block or sheets. For block pastry, roll the block to the required rectangle size. If rolling sheets, you may need to cut a large sheet down to size, or amalgamate 2 sheets to make the rectangle. You can do this by putting the edge of one sheet over the other sheet and rolling with a rolling pin to make them stick together. Then shape into the 35cm x 25cm rectangle by rolling and cutting as necessary.

If making your own pastry, roll the pastry on a floured surface into a rectangle about 35cm x 25cm.

The size doesn’t have to be precise – you just want a rectangle that fits neatly onto your baking tray.

Fold over the four edges about 2cm and crimp down with a fork. Make an egg wash by beating the egg and milk together. Brush the pastry, edges included, with the egg wash.

Place the pears on the pastry, in any design you like. Sprinkle with the additional sugar.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until the pastry is a deep golden brown. Take the tart out of the the oven and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.

Drizzle with honey and serve with thick cream or ice cream or both!

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