“★★★★½ “Definitive performances prove madness can be catching . . . The best was saved until last. When Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King burst upon an unsuspecting world in 1969, it created quite a furore. In 2016, the year of his passing, we can look back on the work and glimpse amidst the crash, bang and wallop the first seeds of the great stage composer that he would become. Australian poet Randolph Stow’s text is closely based on the words on King George III, recorded during his bouts of ‘madness’, now believed to be attributable to acute attacks of intermittent porphyria. Even at a distance of 45 years, it’s a bold, dangerous and painful piece – especially for anyone familiar with the workings of the unhinged mind – and thanks to Simon Lobelson’s truly remarkable interpretation (one of the finest pieces of musical theatre acting I’ve seen this year) it was brought to life in all its daring and, perhaps surprising, subtlety.

Director Kate Gaul’s sensitive, bare stage approach (gone were the birdcaged instrumentalists of the original conception) paid dividends. Lobelson’s bewigged monarch descended from on high, to enter a ‘cell’ ringed by the ensemble of six. A gibbering, raving, piteous creature in gown and breeches, he switched effortlessly from rage to despair. With his haunted face half made up, his voice swung miraculously from a thing of shreds and patches to a resonant, raging baritone.

The score calls for five octaves and demands the widest range of extended vocal techniques. Having studied it in detail, I can assure listeners that Lobelson’s brilliantly detailed reading was as close to what Maxwell Davies demands as you could hope to hear. Chock full of squeaks, wheezes, gasps and frequent animal noises, the rasp of air over vocal chords as God is repurposed into “G-o-o-o-o-d” is enough to make singers clutch their throats and wince. Lobelson’s cast iron technique however didn’t falter, and though just occasionally he was drowned in the lower register by the enthusiastic ensemble, he gave a stellar performance of one of music theatre’s most taxing scores.

The bravura vocal performance was matched by a dramatic assumption of the role that equally impressed. Whether muttering to the flautist who hopped birdlike across the stage, addressing Lear-like a passing fly, or hearing voices in his head, Lobelson was deep inside every moment. The mad tormented minuet that precedes the fourth song (To be sung on the Water) saw him at his most compelling, the whispered plea “deliver me from my people, they are within” was a guttural moment of chilling vulnerability. Another coup is Maxwell Davies instruction that the King snatch the leader’s violin and smash it to pieces in a moment of surprisingly alarming violence. A clever switch saw a bemused Andrew Haveron bereft of what one presumes was not his priceless 1757 Guadagnini! Lobelson’s exit, his voice fading almost interminably into the bowels of the Con, had a charnel whiff of Bedlam about it. Again, Lynch held it all together with aplomb, ensuring Lobelson of the best chance to pull off his vocal miracles, while the multi-instrument-wielding sextet gave a masterclass in technical wizardry. Quite stunning.”

- Clive Paget, Limelight, Eight songs for a Mad King

“Oh, and let’s not forget Simon Lobelson’s brief appearance as the shepherd. He’s a Pinchgut Opera regular and lectures at the nearby Sydney Conservatorium so he didn’t have far to travel”

- Steve Moffatt, Wentworth Courier, Pelléas et Mélisande

“Simon Lobelson presented the short walk-on role of the shepherd with stylish affinity”

- Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald, Pelléas et Mélisande

“Simon Lobelson- another Aussie- does a fine job of his single line as the Shepherd”

- Angus McPherson, Limelight, Pelléas et Mélisande

“the grotesque family quartet of Michael Butchard, Blake Fischer, Simon Lobelson and Wade Kernot (dragged up like something out of Monty Python as the stentorian mother) were a class act, especially in their close harmony a cappella numbers.”

- Clive Paget, Limelight, Seven Deadly Sins

“baritone Simon Lobelson had expressive darkness and well-moulded sound as Junius.”

- Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald, Rape of Lucretia

“Lobelson brings a ringing tone to Junius”

- Angus McPherson, Limelight, Rape of Lucretia

“Meanwhile, Simon Lobelson is a steady and very secure presence as the more devious Junius.”

- Ben Neutze, Daily Review, Rape of Lucretia

“baritone Simon Lobelson created a convincing portrayal of the calculating Junius.”

- Murray Black, The Australian, Rape of Lucretia

“…as ever a pleasure to hear, as was Simon Lobelson’s robust baritone.”

- David Larkin, Bachtrack, Rape of Lucretia

“Simon Lobelson was masterful as the jealous and raging Junius. His wonderful baritone voice had everything and more that could be needed in the role. Rugged and masculine yet his hurt at being betrayed by his wife’s infidelity is so palpable in his anguished moments.”

- Deen Hamaker, Sounds Like Sydney, Rape of Lucretia

“Lobelson is suave and imposing as the devilish Nick Shadow”

- Louise Lewis, British Theatre Guide, Rake’s Progress

“Simon Lobelson takes a less melodramatic view of Nick Shadow than some baritones, and seems a fraction undercharacterised as a result, but his sinister half-smiles and secure singing are entirely satisfying”

- Mark Valencia, Whatsonstage, Rake’s Progress

“Simon Lobelson’s dapper lounge lizard of a Nick Shadow – himself shadowed by two silent accomplices, one male, one female (Jon Shaw and Ada Burke) – exuded subtle menace, even if the part lies a little low for his juicy baritone.”

- Yehuda Shapiro, Opera, Rake’s Progress

“Lobelson exudes Giambattista’s dangerous strength, fully felt in the raging dialogue with Caterina (a fearless mezzo match for Lobelson’s baritone).”

- Keith Gallasch, Realtime Arts, Biographica

“All the singers gave heroic performances, particularly Simon Lobelson.”

- Deborah Jones, Opera, Mayakovsky

“Sydney based Simon Lobelson has a full, round baritone with lots of drama at the big end. He is enjoying an illustrious international career and we are lucky to have him for a small scale recital . . . My favourite was The Home for the Appalled [to which] Lobelson’s dramatic baritone was ideally suited.”

- Daniel Kaan, CLASSIKON, Australian Artsong Recital

“Simon Lobelson, in this role and as the ailing archbishop sings with firm smoothness”

- Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald, Biographica

“A stark contrast to Lobelson’s cold, smooth baritone”

- Angus McPherson, Limelight, Biographica

“Spiteri—youthful and nervously vigorous—and Lobelson—sombre, slow-moving, threatening—sing the demanding score with passion and conviction, deftly realising their characters’ wild mood swings.”

- Keith Gallasch, REALTIME ARTS, Notes from Underground

“Brenton Spiteri and Simon Lobelson cope admirably with the demands of the music and drama. It’s a long, difficult sing, and neither puts a musical foot wrong all evening … Lobelson is a saturnine presence; brooding and gloomy with a false bravura that masks an abject awareness of failure.”

- Clive Paget, Limelight, Notes from Underground

“When I go mad, I want to go mad like King George. Specifically, like Peter Maxwell Davies’ King George. More specifically, like Simon Lobelson’s Peter Maxwell Davies’ King George. I want to find the music in the howls, the poetry in the pain. I want to smash violins. Oh alright, maybe not that last bit, but it is good to see how shocking it still is to watch someone whack a violin into the stage so hard that it cracks and splinters into pieces. It’s the culmination of Eight Songs for a Mad King, the moment where the King kills a bird, kills a song, kills part of himself. I knew it was coming, but it was still a shock. My neighbour had no idea, and hearing her sharp intake of breath, momentary disbelief, then horror, was everything you could wish for. This is not a gratuitous gesture. It is a key moment for the audience, the players and the central figure, a moment where art and artistry completely loses it. A glimpse into the abyss.

Simon Lobelson is a magnificent King George in this fine performance by the Verbrugghen Ensemble. He makes the role his own (as, indeed, everyone who attempts this crazy work must) with an endlessly inventive repertoire of noises. What I found most impressive, and most affecting, was the way his performance seemed so organic, so frighteningly natural, whether he was matching his voice with birdsong or bowdlerizing Handel or howling. And how the ensemble was gradually lured into being an extension of the king’s byzantine mind, brilliant and brutal and beautiful at the same time. It was deeply moving.”

- Harriet Cunningham, A CUNNING BLOG, Eight Songs for a Mad King

“Simon Lobelson made a fine baritone narrator”

- Clive Paget, Limelight, Jandamarra

“Simon Lobelson, as Mayakovsky, is wild, implacable and impressive”

- Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald, Mayakovsky

“Lobelson is powerful, charismatic and dramatic in shiny black and has an incredible bass voice.”

- Lynne Lancaster, Sydney Arts Guide, Mayakovsky

“a Christus graced with presence and singing with firm tone”

- Clive Paget, Limelight, Johannes Passion

“an intensely dramatic, totally assured portrayal of the evil Scarpia”

- Peter Williams, Napier Herald, Puccini Gala

“Another strength is Simon Lobelson’s muscular performance as the eponymous poet.  Lobelson’s portrayal oscillates between nonchalant swagger and explosive intensity; he inhabits every inch of the stage with charismatic gravity; and his occasionally thunderous baritone does justice to a poet whose finest work is titled At the Top of my Voice.  Even if it remains impossible to consciously apprehend the music’s inclusion of a stretched spectral analysis of Mayakovsky’s actual speech, the climactic scene, in which Lobelson belts out in synchrony with a pre-recorded and machinelike vocalisation, redoubles the score’s thematic counterpoint and provides bombastic verse the amplification it deserves.”

- Mark Steven, The Conversation, Mayakovsky

“…there are strong performances from a nicely nuanced Simon Lobelson…”

- Clive Paget, Limelight Magazine, Owen Wingrave

“Lobelson was conciliatory and lyrical”

- Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald, Owen Wingrave

“And in the privotal role of Amfortas, darkly bearded Simon Lobelson showed why he is in such demand with his power and presence”

- Robert Henderson, Canberra International Music Festival, Parsifal

“Simon Lobelson and Christina Wilson, both excellent singers, were given little chance to shine…”

- Judith Crispin, City News, Great South Land

“Simon Lobelson gave Ford welcome fire.”

- Robert Thicknesse, Opera Now, Falstaff

“Simon Lobelson brought searing intensity to Michele”

- Yehuda Shapiro, Opera, Il Tabarro

“I cannot remember any previous contestant basing his entire programme on Alberich, and I expected this to be a placky effort from a singer who had bitten off more than he could chew. I could not have been more wrong. He sounded absolutely in command of this difficult music, never distorted or forced his voice, and was completely inside the character from first to last. To my mind he was the contestant who made the most use of the words. A tremendous actor, he had the audience by the throat, especially as he took us through Alberich’s terrible ordeal in Das Rheingold. There was a huge buzz on the audience after his programme.”

- Wagner Society News, Bayreuth Bursary 2011

“Sydney-born Baritone Simon Lobelson was also welcomed to what became a quite worthy Opera House debut. His reliable baritone was particularly beautiful…”

- Paul Nolan, Artshub, A European Christmas, Sydney Opera House

“Simon Lobelson and Adrian Clarke were luxury casting in the minor male roles”

- Jonathan Burton, Words and Music, Beatrice et Benedict

“The singers could sing, particularly Simon Lobelson in the title role”

- Kieron Quirke, Evening Standard, Rigoletto

“However, the performance became much more focused after the first interval, which was mostly due to the amazing chemistry between Simon Lobelson as Rigoletto and Amanda Forbes as Gilda. Their scene together after Gilda’s rape was truly heartbreaking. I would gladly see the production again just to watch this scene one more time. Both Lobelson and Forbes are truly exceptional in their respective parts.”

- Carolin Kopplin, UK Theatre Network, Rigoletto

“The audience must laugh at him, understand him and despise him all at once, but, as well as singing like a baritone angel, Simon Lobelson brings it off.”

- Ann Bawtree, The Public Reviews, Rigoletto

“Simon Lobelson’s Osmin showed real ability with the text. Not unconnectedly, [whose] singing was the most expressive”

- George Hall, Opera, Zaide

“Most memorable for many was the bass, Australian-born Simon Lobelson, who delivered his solos with pulsating warmth, vigour and originality.We will definitely hear more of him.”

- Orpheus, Messiah

“The wily, personable Figaro, carrying his tools of trade on his jacket, was Simon Lobelson, who delivered his self-promoting aria with many a flourish and musicianship that gave due regard to words and music”

- Margaret Davies, Opera, The Barber of Seville

“Then, when Figaro, played by Simon Lobelson, strutted arrogantly onto the stage and launched into his introductory aria, he had the audience eating out of his hand. He was made for the role, which he delivered with such panache, that it almost came as a surprise that it was backed by such a superb baritone voice.”

- Stubbings Opera Review, The Barber of Seville

“The stand-out performer for me was Simon Lobelson, who oozed charm and fantastic comedy timing as Figaro the barber.”

- Chris Carra, This is South Wales, The Barber of Seville

“The baritone soloist was Simon Lobelson, whose scholarly introductions complemented his delivery of Wolf’s Der Feuerreiter and Schubert’s Prometheus, the latter a most effective dramatic performance.”

- Donald Hollins, English Touring Opera Lieder Recital

“Simon Lobelson’s warm, centred baritone thrillingly threw off the frenzied plaints of the Grandfather Clock, and gave a seductive edge to his sinuous feline Lothario.”

- David Blewitt, Opera, L’enfant des sortileges

“I particularly liked Simon Lobelson’s floppy-faced Grandfather Clock, and his doubling as the black cat.”

- Nick Breckenfield, Classical Source, L’enfant et les sortileges

“Of the characters dreamed up in his nightmare, Simon Lobelson’s L’Horloge . . . was particularly well-drawn”

- Anna Picard, The Independant, L’enfant et les sortileges

“Simon Lobelson and Sigridur Osk Kristjansdottir, as the black and white cats respectively, brought out the playfulness and athleticism within their roles, with some wonderful feline vocalisations thrown into the musical lines.”

- Evan Dickerson, Seen and Heard, L’enfant et les sortileges