12.01.08 Sting plays his first show at Sydney Opera House... ''Beautiful, soulful and full of surprises'' says the Sydney Morning Herald...


While Sting's lute gently weeps...

It is hard to believe that Sting has never played at the Sydney Opera House before. Platinum records, Grammys and Oscars, playing to 100,000 people, no sweat, but put him in the (relatively speaking) intimate confines of the Concert Hall and he looks slightly nervous. Loping on with the wonderfully nerdy lutenist Edin Karamazov, he sits down among a small forest of lutes and begins to sing.

John Dowland (1563-1626) was an English composer, singer and lutenist. His songs have a haunting quality that resonates with many musicians, not least Elvis Costello, but in the hands of Sting they have most certainly found a fine 21st-century home. Sting is part-singer, part-storyteller, immersing us in the turbulent 16th century before revisiting some old 20th-century songs.

His performances are direct and winning. It is most definitely Sting, not a classically trained voice, and the melodies sometimes land him right in the most uncomfortable range of his voice. But any superficial artlessness is made up for by his instinctive ability - the same ability that has made him a millionaire - to deliver a great song.

Sting is also clearly no slouch on the archlute (a 14-stringed, tenor version of the guitar's great grandfather, the lute). Karamazov, however, is the real inspiration here, an ideal straight man who crafts the intricate accompaniments with exquisite care and style. The duo is joined by Stile Antico, an eight-piece a capella group from Britain, who provide strength in numbers for the rowdier madrigals and subtle but very effective backing in some of the ballads.

The set has grown since 'Songs Of The Labyrinth' was released in 2006. Sting observes that Dowland's songs echo through time and in the last part of the show he performs a selection of English songs from Elgar and Vaughan Williams to his own 'Field Of Dreams'. Apart from the slightly over-arranged 'Message In A Bottle' it is all beautiful, soulful and full of surprises. Dowland should be proud.

© Sydney Morning Herald by Harriet Cunningham
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