Cynthia Fortitude’s Farewell - her first

Te Papa: Soundings, Wellington

28/09/2007 - 29/09/2007

Production Details

Created in collaboration by Helen Moulder, Jeff Kingsford-Brown and composer Michael Vinten


An evening of music, madness and delight


The celebrated and legendary diva, Cynthia Fortitude (from The Legend Returns) has been commissioned to write an opera for the opening ceremony of the Rugby World Cup in 2011. Sponsored by a well-known chocolate company, Miss Fortitude is combining this endeavour with an operatic concert to farewell her adoring public. She hires the Wellington Chamber Orchestra, invites the famous NZ tenor Sir Jarvis Browne to sing with her and plans an attempt on the speed record, held by Cecilia Bartoli, for singing Non So Piu from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. The tenor, however, does not turn up, a tuba player causes continuous disruptions, and after an endless series of musical mishaps and misunderstandings, during which the orchestra stage a rebellion, the concert descends into chaos. Help, however, comes … and from an unexpected source.

HELEN MOULDER has long had the ambition to introduce her opera singing character Cynthia Fortitude to larger concert-going audiences with an orchestra. She says, “I have been playing Cynthia for nearly 20 years now and love the fact that she seems to have no trouble in enticing audiences to do anything she asks of them. I am looking forward now to working from the concert platform, encouraging larger groups of people to laugh and sing together.”

“Whether she is ‘winging it’ through a Rossini aria because she can’t remember the words or being knocked out by a high ‘C’…Miss Cynthia Fortitude is a riot” – Evening Post – The Legend Returns

“Just when theatre seems to be getting very serious, sober-sided and predictable, it is great to report again that nothing beats the sight and sound of an audience rocking and howling with laughter at the antics of performers who have set out to make a group of strangers one.”
Dominion-Post, Wellington – The Legend Returns

“This is a night out to cherish.”
Evening Standard, Palmerston North – The Legend Returns

Friday September 28th 7.30pm
Saturday September 29th 7.30pm
length: 1 hr 30 mins (approx)  – no interval
BOOKING: Ticketek
PRICES: $15 – $39 

Starring Helen Moulder and Jeff Kingsford-Brown

With the Wellington Chamber Orchestra conducted by Michael Vinten

Theatre , Music , Comedy ,

1 hr 30 mins, no interval

Operatic balls-up

Review by Melody Nixon 18th Oct 2007

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.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


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A class act

Review by Thomas LaHood 02nd Oct 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.  Both Moulder and Kingsford-Brown display excellent clown technique, although Kingsford-Brown’s odd German character feels out of place and takes some getting used to.  I also felt that some of his gags, particularly the more physical ones during his entrance, could have been developed and extended for much higher comic effect.

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.
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