Living legend Ennio Morricone
burst into wild and lawless Adelaide for a once-in-a-lifetime performance for the Adelaide Festival on last Friday, and wasted no time proving that his first appearance in Australia was well worth the wait.
The sprawling banks of the Torrens River played host to the prolific 83-year-old, who was joined by The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra as well as six Italian soloists and a 140-strong choir – and for a man that the LA Times said had ‘zero charisma as a conductor’ Morricone sure delivered, whipping his performers into a frenzy for 5000 reverent fans.
Best known as the man responsible for the whip-crack and coyote call in Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Morricone has worked on blockbusters, cult films, and anything else you can wave a baton at.
He’s a favourite with the likes of Oliver Stone, Roman Polanski and Quentin Tarantino, and for good reason. Dense and multi-layered, his pieces are as rich in texture as they are varied. Delicate strings give way to pounding drums, and you’re just as likely to hear 70’s-porn style bass as you are a breathtaking violin solo.
For this performance, Morricone’s mastery of different styles was certainly on display, with a range of iconic film scores and symphonic work. Five themed suites featured pieces drilled into the collective conscious and the relatively unknown alike, demonstrating the Maestro’s incredible range and talent.
It included everything from swinging lounge music to swirling concertos. His signature electric guitar rang out, as did smooth electric bass and sharp trumpets, reminding the audience that the man isn’t just about cellos and violins. Add to that the incredible talent of soprano soloist Susanna Rigacci and the surging vocals of the choir, and the results were powerful.
Evocative of the gun-slinging West, prohibition-era America, and everything in between, each piece brought something different. ‘The Sicilian Clan’ was passionate, foreboding and dripping with Italian cool, with the laid-back guitar twang and lazy strings creating the perfect balance between sass and gangster sleaze.
‘Deborah’s Theme’ from Once Upon A Time in America was mesmerizing, with languid strings leaving the audience hypnotized, while the theme from The Battle of Algiers was a powerful and brass-heavy soldiers’ march, ominous to the end.
In addition to the music, the choice of venue added an almost surreal element to the performance – something that proved at once good, bad and ugly. Nature was certainly at its best for the event, and the river looked spectacular with an incredible sunset making the music all the more magnificent, but the open environment brought it’s own challenges.
Sound bled into the venue left, right and centre, with planes soaring overhead and sirens blaring, while Festival volunteers smashed empty bottles into bins behind the scenes. The nearby Festival bar and performance space, Barrio, was also blasting music towards the end of the set, detracting from the more quiet moments.
While most of these elements could be overlooked though, and some almost complemented the abstract soundscapes in Morricone’s music, one distraction was absolutely baffling. The opening race of the Clipsal 500 racing event was scheduled to finish 45 minutes after the Gala opening performance began, meaning the high-pitched rumble of cars could be heard throughout the entire first two suites.
Thankfully, the Adelaide Premier himself was present, and used his clout to put a stop to the noise. The quality of the music and the precision of Morricone’s approach to his life’s work meant that the distractions were soon forgotten too, melting away to leave an inimitable night of music.
Three encores and as many standing ovations later the Maestro bowed out, leaving an awe-struck audience in raptures. For a fistful of dollars, the crowd had witnessed one of the most talented composers in cinematic history, and couldn’t have been more thankful.