Radio NZ Drama Online, Global

07/04/2020 - 31/05/2020

COVID-19 Lockdown Festival 2020

Production Details

A funny musical comedy featuring Helen Moulder who plays aging opera diva, Cynthia Fortitude. Cynthia workshops a new opera with her pianist Gertrude Rallentando (Rose Beauchamp).

Recorded live on stage at Circa Theatre in Wellington. 

The Legend Returns
5 Jul 2015
COVID Lockdown Festival 2020
From 7 April 2020
 Listen duration54′ :58″  

Theatre , Musical , Audio (podcast) ,

55 mins

Artistry, perfect timing, enchantingly absurd self-delusion

Review by Terry MacTavish 07th Apr 2020

Lift your spirits along with your voice as in your corona-bubble you welcome the return of the legend! As the sycophantic announcer assures us breathlessly, it is sheer delight to be once more amidst a rapturous audience for the celebrated Cynthia Fortitude, operatic diva supreme! And she is as fabulous as ever, though it’s many years ago now, touring with the iconic Hens’ Teeth Collective, that Helen Moulder created Cynthia, a gloriously funny character who clearly demanded a show of her own.

No need to be afraid we will be forced to endure hideous renditions of arias, in the style of Florence Foster Jenkins, the wealthy but utterly deluded singer who hired Carnegie Hall, blissfully unaware her audiences considered her a joke.  Moulder is actually a fine singer and moreover the tantalisingly brief snippets of song are interspersed with entertaining background stories that reveal Cynthia’s morbid fascination with the deaths of composers and poets, as well as a very idiosyncratic take on Greek mythology. Who would not appreciate the delicacy of her description of the rather unsavoury birth of Aphrodite? 

Accompanied by Gertrude Rallentando her long-suffering pianist, Cynthia, “Mother Teresa of music”, has determined to bring opera to the Third World. Despite her massive ego, exuberant self-confidence and refined RP accent, she demonstrates an egalitarian desire to share her talent and knowledge with all. We appear to be on her itinerary because she is under the misapprehension we are experienced singers, here to workshop her new opera. This masterpiece, she informs us with bombastic triumph, is impressively entitled: WAYNE!

One of the pleasures of this live radio recording is to hear the tickled response of those in the theatre audience, in complete thrall to the diva and only too willing to participate, or sacrifice themselves, to become the chorus for Wayne. Obediently they follow the diva’s instructions, becoming everything required, from sheep to pine trees, and eventually executing the laughing song most creditably. I defy you not to join in, nor laugh out loud at Cynthia’s (or Moulder’s?) absurdly inconsequential anecdotes and ad-libs.

Her adoring fans quickly catch on, hooting with delight as they recognise the tunes ruthlessly stolen from popular music, from ‘Send in the Clowns’ to ‘Rule Britannia’. Moulder interacts skilfully with the charmed patrons – “Humming is such a sensual experience! Did you feel the delicious vibrations?’; ‘Are you sure you’re not a eunuch?” – and warns them against the temptation of such follies as too recklessly attempting the top C. Her mashups of famous songs and parodies of singers from Pavarotti to Te Kanawa are hilarious, and beautifully executed.

Of course it would be fun to be able to see the performance, especially when Cynthia is lying on the floor asking us to observe a brick ‘oscillating’ on her diaphragm (and warning us not to attempt this with ‘The Flight of the Bumblebee’), but the character is so well established it is not hard to imagine the scene. Cynthia’s support and foil, Rose Beauchamp as Gertie, is a simply splendid accompanist, but as it is a convention that she never speaks, we do miss Gertie’s doubtless amusing and revealing facial expressions. 

However, just as the illustrious Joyce Grenfell (who herself toured with a pianist to entertain troops in WWII) was able to conjure up hilarious spectacles in her monologues, so Moulder’s artistry and perfect timing enable the audience at home to feel included and to delight in the delicious madness, as Cynthia attempts to emote “love, desire, fear, desperation and confusion, all in the space of one chord”!

While Cynthia Fortitude’s fame is an enchantingly absurd self-delusion, Helen Moulder is a national treasure, a ‘legend among legends’ indeed.

Listen here.


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