Mama Alto: Countertenor Diva
Mama Alto @ La Bohème
6:00pm, Wed 5 Mar 2014
Over the years I’ve come to accept that early weeknight shows at La Bohème usually struggle for an audience; and, whilst there were sufficient people present at this show to ensure that most of the tables were occupied, the head-count was still sufficiently low that I wondered – yet again – how this can possibly be sustainable for performers… especially when I can spotted a handful of media peeps in the crowd, drinking water to match the cost of their complimentary tickets, notebooks at the ready.
To take my mind of the sadness and disappointment and seething that usually accompanies those thoughts, I attempted to skate over the programme I was given at the door… only to discover that it was dense and heavy with text. Only after the performance did I get to truly appreciate the content on that sheet of paper: not only was there a comprehensive set-list, but a deeply personal narrative written by Mama Alto herself, explaining her journey through song, her influences, her responses. It’s a wonderful read, but I’m kinda glad I didn’t get to read it prior to the performance… because it made the next hour-or-so a glorious surprise.
Mama Alto (Benny Dimas) managed to remain elegant as she negotiated La Bohème’s stage in her tight full-length gown and – along with pianist & musical director Tiffanni Walton – gently slid into the first of five acts, each a collection of songs (or snippets) around a theme. Dimas’ countertenor voice barely wavers throughout, with almost foreign-sounding notes turning familiar songs into completely new experiences; but whilst there’s not much variation in the frequency of her range (there’s no multi-octave ranges here), the control of her volume is exceptional.
In particular, her version of And I Am Telling You was nothing short of stunning (and was then followed by a lovely rendition of Wild Is The Wind). And her I Will Always Love You was proper lump-in-throat stuff… and that’s coming from someone who hates Whitney Houston’s version. As far as I’m concerned, that song belongs to Mama Alto now.
Mama Alto’s movement onstage was hampered somewhat by her inability to move freely (that dress was tight), but that didn’t stop her from having an almost spotlit screen-star presence. In between brackets of songs she chatted amiably to the audience, and – in thanking the audience for being so welcoming – delivered a beautiful speech about acceptance (stemming from an incident where she was verbally abused on Gouger Street). But far from being an exercise in gender terms, there were also moments of humour in her actions: the understanding between Mama Alto and pianist Tiffanni Walton as she struggled with the page turns of her unruly music sheets brought a smile to everyone’s faces.
Mama Alto is certainly a unique performer… but, most importantly, she’s incredibly entertaining. Her Countertenor Diva show was an emotional roller coaster, chock-full of great tunes and music, and I walked away from La Bohème wishing only that more paying punters had been at the show.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) March 5, 2014