Songs From The Labyrinth

Sydney, NSW, AU
Opera Housewith None
Sting shows his other musical self...

The many faces of Sting: rock legend, tantric sex guru - now medieval-style lutist?

Not many men in their 50s could enjoy any kind of success touring the world with a 15th century instrument and lyrics.

Sting somehow still manages to make it look sexy.

The 57-year-old who once fronted the 1970s pop group The Police seems to have mellowed in his twilight years.

Now the middle-aged man is more into middle ages music and is touring the world with famous lutist Edin Karamazov on their 'Songs From The Labyrinth' Tour - an evening of music by Elizabethan composer John Dowland.

In 2006, the pair released an album of the same name which topped the classical charts in the US and Britain.

On Sunday they performed at the Sydney Opera House - Sting's debut appearance at the iconic venue.

Up on the darkly lit stage alongside six lutes and a eight-strong classical choir, Sting seems a world away from his days of rocking at Live Aid, and songs like 'Roxanne' and 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free'.

Not many retired dads would get the opportunity to take their latest hobby on a world tour, but Sting is still a drawcard whether he has a lute in his hand or dye in his hair.

Sting's voice is still mesmerising and hypnotic, even when he's telling the story of a man who lived half a millennia ago.

The audience that sold out the Sydney Opera House were a hybrid of classic Sting and classic music fans and they lapped it up.

And the old school Sting fans were not disappointed.

During the encore he still managed to pull out the crowd pleasers 'Fields Of Gold' and 'Message In A Bottle' and even a Christmas carol just for good measure.

Interestingly he sounded even more at ease singing the really, really old songs instead of the singles which were just mere decades old.

It almost shouldn't work, but it does. Sting brings a 500-year-old musician back to life and makes him look cool.

Not bad for an old bloke.

(c) 9News by Katelyn John

Dowland gains life in Sting...

Pop star Sting was fascinated by the music of English composer John Dowland (1563-1626) for more than 20 years before he released his Dowland recording 'Songs from the Labyrinth' in 2006 with lutenist Edin Karamazov. Its success led to this international concert tour.

If you went to this concert with the sounds of, say, Andreas Scholl in your mind, you might have been disappointed or even irritated. But that is not the point. Sting is not attempting to replicate a style of singing. Instead, he's offering a contemporary take on Dowland's songs.

By and large, it worked. Sting was a charming, engaging performer and the concert was well structured.

Extracts from Dowland's 1595 letter to Queen Elizabeth I's secretary of state, Robert Cecil, along with Sting's own brief historical summary, provided an intelligent contextual backbone for the music.

Sting is one of the most distinctive singers around but he has modified his vocal sound to match Dowland's idiom. The melancholic, slightly husky edge was still there, but he also created clear-voiced sonorities when needed.

Strong and agile across his range, Sting was attuned to the individual character of each song and adjusted the quality of his timbre accordingly.

The result was a totally different experience from the rarefied Dowland sound world we're used to.

His music was not simply reflected by the distant mirror of the past but sprang forth into our contemporary world with freshness and insight.

The hopeless despair of 'Flow My Tears' and 'In Darkness Let Me Dwell', for instance, resonated with a raw immediacy and emotional intensity sometimes lacking in more conventional accounts. By contrast, in 'Can She Excuse My Wrongs' and 'Clear or Cloudy', Sting's lightness of touch and rhythmic acuity uncovered the music's wit and vivacity, while his version of 'Come Again' was a passionately expressive celebration of love and beauty.

The only real drawback was Sting's inconsistent diction. While it didn't undermine his ability to create atmosphere, at times it was hard to fully appreciate the texts.

On lute, Karamazov accompanied the singer with subtlety and displayed dazzling virtuosity in his solo pieces. Sting also showed he is an accomplished lutenist, offering solid support to Karamazov in their duets.

At the end of the Dowland set, Sting returned to sing a series of songs by Elgar ('Where Corals Lie from Sea Pictures'), Vaughan Williams and himself ('Fields of Gold' and 'Message in a Bottle').

For him, Dowland is part of a long tradition of English songwriting, and these sensitive performances made his argument persuasive.

(c) The Australian by Murray Black

Sting indulges now he doesn't need lute...

It's been only a few months since The Police touched down in Australia as part of the band's worldwide comeback tour. Now the frontman of the band is back, but this time with much lessfanfare - and a much softer sound.

At the Sydney Opera House last night, Sting took the stage with a lute instead of his usual bass guitar for an evening of music by Elizabethan composer John Dowland.

It was an unlikely setting for the man best known for hits such as 'Roxanne', 'De Do Do Do De Da Da Da' and 'Fields of Gold'.

But he's happy to admit that he's become ''totally hooked'' on the 26-string instrument: ''It's a fascinating mistress, but very demanding.''

In front of a more intimate (albeit sold-out) crowd than he is accustomed to, Sting played alongside acclaimed lute player Edin Karamazov and British vocal group Stile Antico. In addition to Dowland's compositions, he was scheduled to perform some of his pop hits on the lute.

The idea for the tour came after Sting and Karamazov released a CD of Dowland's songs in 2006, 'Songs From the Labyrinth'. The recording was surprisingly successful, topping the classical charts in the US, Britain and France, and selling almost a million copies.

Sting's interest in the lute began as little more than a hobby. But after reading Dowland's letters, his interest in the instrument began to grow.

In the lead-up to the latest tour - which also takes in Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth - Sting told The Australian's music writer, Iain Shedden, how he had been drawn to the instrument and to Dowland's music in particular. ''I'm heading back to the 16th century now,'' he said.

He had no trouble placing Dowland in a contemporary context: ''You can trace him all the way through to The Beatles.''

He also identified with the melancholic flavour of Dowland's compositions.

''There's a melancholy strain through that kind of music that my voice lends itself to,'' he said.

When The Police finished their tour in August, they had played to almost four million people. Last night's performance, the first date on his latest tour of Australia and the region, was before a far more modest crowd.

It was also the first evening performance in the Sydney Opera House since news of the death of Joern Utzon, the architect who designed the iconic building. ''If you're used to playing to crowds of 20,000 or 30,000 people, it is quite intimidating when you can actually see everyone in the crowd,'' Sting said in August. ''It's so intensely quiet, this music, so detailed, you can hear everything. It's quite nerve-racking but, then again, that's what a performer has to do, put himself back in school and learn something new.''

(c) The Australian by Ashleigh Wilson