Willow Productions are proud to present
Cynthia Fortitude's Farewell
With Helen Moulder as Cynthia
CYNTHIA NEEDS ANOTHER TOUR - Dominion-Post
The first thing to be said about Cynthia Fortitude’s
first farewell tour is that two performances are not nearly enough.
Review by Bruce Greenfield
Soundings Theatre was packed with an excited audience of admirers and fans from all over New Zealand for this the first of Cynthia Fortitude’s farewells. After this concert, fans were desperately hoping that it would not be her last!
Like her colleagues Anna Russell, Victor Borge, Barry Humphries and Joyce Grenville, Cynthia Fortitude (Helen Moulder) doesn’t just perform, she takes her audience on a journey, she forms a real relationship with the public on numerous levels, sometimes surprisingly intimate and physical.
The concert was fittingly grand in scale for a farewell. Cynthia’s usual partner and accompanist Gertrude Rallentando, was unavailable in Wanaka, but as the concert progressed, Cynthia revealed a darker subplot swirling around Gertrude’s absence. The Wellington Chamber Orchestra were a splendid support throughout the entire evening despite the numerous obstacles that confronted them – altered programme order, the late arrival of the tuba player, sconces being repositioned, music being ripped into shreds by the soloist, to name but a few. The fact that the entire orchestra walked out during the concert did have the audiences sympathy to some degree but the dispute was resolved much to everyone’s relief and they returned to the stage. In their absence, Cynthia astounded us all with her extraordinary rendition of the famous Mozart aria “Queen of the Night” accompanying herself with amazing dexterity on the ukulele, this was was me one of the musical highlights of the evening. Nothing could compete with the breathtaking and ultimately successful attempt on breaking Cecilia Bartoli’s speed record for singing “Non So Piu”, this really had the audience on their seats.
To sustain such a grand concert Cynthia utilized modern technology and the audience were treated to helpful surtitles throughout. Translations, song texts, instructions when to boo and clap, sponsor’s logos – all very clearly projected. To work with an artist of Cynthia’s calibre, a musical director of experience, tenacity and above all patience, had to be found. Michael Vinten took on the mantle with great aplomb, the Wellington Chamber Orchestra played with great confidence under his guidance and his arrangements and compositions fitted the occasion like a glove. A highlight was his overture for the opera 2011, Balls for the Rugby World Cup, a skillful blend of favourite overtures, very different in style to his French Ambassador’s Aria “Oh Merde!” from Opera 2011 – cutting edge lyrics and very “modern!!” orchestrations.
The mysterious non-arrival of guest tenor Sir Jarvis Browne allowed the audience the unique pleasure of experiencing the delightful Dr Von Oberstock Winkle Dorf. From his first late arrival as a tuba player and splendid low D on the deftly, he deftly took on a variety of roles, conductor, orchestral union arbiter, timekeeper for the world record attempt on “Non So Piu” and eventual tenor duet partner for Cynthia. Jeff Kingsford-Brown excelled in this roile and his delightful dual descent of expiration tp the floor with Cynthia at the end of the concert was a superbly timed conclusion to a beautiful theatrical partnership.
Julie Wilson’s wonderfully tragic costume for Cynthia worked admirably for the many dying characters she portrayed throughout the evening. Of these portrayals, Butterfly’s attempt at suicide by swiss army knife failed at the crucial moment and resulted in a split second decision by Cynthia to resort to consumption, yet another stunning example of this great artist thinking on her feet.
The new opera for the 2011 World Cup, Balls,
was the main feature of the concert and it was a privilege to
hear this work in progress and to actually be able to sing some
of the music. Again Cynthia has broken new ground with her approach
to sponsorship – by subtle inclusion of the sponsors in
the lyrics and including their products in the actual storyline
– CNZ will be clamouring to get Cynthia for their next sponsorship
seminar. Lets hope Cynthia manages to resist the lure of arts
management and sponsorship directors who will be after her expertise,
and devote her energies to live performances, and us, her devoted
audience, for many years to come.
Reviewed by Melody Nixon
CYNTHIA FORTITUDE’s first farewell is certainly deserving of a sequel. This mix of operatic comedy, semi-dignified slapstick and love narrative, ceremoniously accompanied by a chamber orchestra, appeals to astute viewers with knowledge of classical music and general fans of (inoffensive) comedy alike.
Helen Moulder melds innuendo which would be crude in any other situation – “turn me on” she instructs the sound technician in the opening sequence – with audience interaction and light-hearted adages, such as “Art is long, life is short”. With a deprecating humour which is pointedly un-self aware, Moulder flounces through a ‘concert’ as the diva Cynthia Fortitude with as much cheese, cheer and grandiosity as she can muster.
Moulder is certainly a sterling performer, and anyone who has seen her in much weightier roles (such as in Doubt earlier this year) should be impressed by the panache with which she negotiates the tempestuousness of this flighty character. Created in collaboration with actor Jeff Kingsford-Brown and composer Michael Vinten, Cynthia Fortitude’s Farewell has an earnest, school-pantomime feel to it, with all the foibles and idiosyncrasies that involves.
Jeff Kingsford-Brown, in the role of the rather mawkish Dr. Von Oberstock Winkle Dorf, impresses both orchestra and audience with his vocal abilities. At first a bumbling tuba player who conductor Michael Vinten has literally picked off the street, Von Oberstock transforms into the operatic partner Fortitude has been long awaiting. Together they perform duets from Puccini’s La Boheme and Verdi’s La Traviata, and encourage the audience to participate in a rendition of their ‘Opera 2011: the new opera for the 2011 Rugby World Cup’, appropriately titled “Balls”.
Strong dramatic tension is created by Fortitude’s repeated interruptions of conductor Vinten and his orchestra, as she searches for the perfect prop for her death scene or the words, in English, for her aria. “I sing it in English so I can… er… make it up,” she confesses coyly before launching into an English version of Gounod’s Jewel Song from Faust, while stamping on apparently priceless jewels plucked from an audience member (and a note of warning there for potential front-row viewers).
The ‘borrowing’ of scores from the likes of Carmen, Mikado and HMS Pinafore sees the presentation of familiarly catchy songs. The theme tune for the obligatory and much maligned corporate sponsor, in this case ‘Front Row Chocolates: chocolates for the match’ is set to The Toreadors Song of Carmen. Fortitude rouses the audience into a rendition of the tune, ending with the rather alarming chorus of “Kill them all, kill them all, Black Black Black,” which she demonstrates is to be sung with a strong gesture of slicing one’s finger across one’s neck. At this, Fortitude smiles with glee at her accomplishment. The gentrified Wellington audience has perhaps bellowed out one of the more tuneful songs about the All Blacks in existence.
Willow Productions may now tour Cynthia Fortitude’s Farewell nationally with regional orchestras. With its rugby and chocolate motifs and subsequently broad appeal, this musical-comedy extravaganza deserves to be well received.
Thomas La Hood, 2nd October 2007
Cynthia Fortitude is New Zealand's most enduring clown, an irreverent and fanciful diva along the lines of Dame Edna Everage, but without the double chin or the camp. For twenty years Helen Moulder has occupied Cynthia's powdery, translucent skin, and the character has become a masterpiece, a National Treasure of Fred Dagg pedigree.
Spending an evening with Ms. Fortitude is a guaranteed pleasure, and in this production she really spreads her wings, bringing with her to the stage the Wellington Chamber Orchestra. These grand collaborators demonstrate Ms. Fortitude's considerable clout in New Zealand opera circles. No surprise then that she has been commissioned to write the official Opera for the Rugby World Cup 2011: Balls.
However, much to co-author and conductor Michael Vinten's apparent frustration, Ms. Fortitude seems much keener to perform a selection of her much-lauded death scenes than air any of their forthcoming masterwork. Further jeopardising the success of the concert is the non-appearance of tenor Sir Jarvis Browne, leaving the programme bereft of duets. The onstage relationship between Vinten and Fortitude becomes increasingly tense, exacerbated by the insistent presence of the very odd tuba player Dr. Gerhard Winkel-Dorf (Jeff Kingsford-Brown).
It's a very well-structured show, allowing a third act that is all payoffs. The comedy is straightforward but vivacious and both Moulder and Kingsford-Brown display excellent clown technique. I must admit, I rather missed the presence of Ms. Fortitude's longtime companion/ accompanist Gertrude Rallentando (Rose Beauchamp - the Maude to Moulder's Everage), who was apparently in Wanaka, although I could swear I saw her behind the keyboard at the back of the stage. Although Dr. Winkel-Dorf's appeal as a character grew as the show went on, Kingsford-Brown couldn't really access the same chemistry as that which flies between the decisive, flamboyant Ms. Fortitude and the vague, uncomplicated Ms. Rallentando.
Similarly, the ironic tone of the main comedic throughline, the Front Row chocolate company's sponsorship of the rugby opera Balls, somehow couldn't reach the giddy heights of madness that were achieved in Ms. Fortitude's last outing The Legend Returns, with it's 'Pinus Radiata' and wolf howls. The feel of the 'Corporate Sponsor's Chorus' was more mundane and mainstream, which is not to say that it diminished the audience's joy at participating throughout the show.
Cynthia Fortitude's true genius and Helen Moulder's excellence as a performer is such that we are uniformly delighted to join her in song. For all her flaws we love her and share her enthusiasm for the music she presents to us. The best moments in the show are simple details - an expression of distaste on Ms. Fortitude's face, the way she 'ticks off' each high note with a nod to the audience as she hits it. Cynthia Fortitude, both as a character brought to life with consummate skill, and as an artist and legend in her own right, is a class act.
Supported by: Creative NZ, The Adam Foundation
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Or contact: Helen Moulder
PO Box 9116
Mobile: 0274 987 580
Click here for Helen Moulder full CV
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