click here for more
click here for more
Interview: Ron Gallipoli and i.e. crazy - An Imposter: A Song Cycle

Interview: Ron Gallipoli and i.e. crazy - An Imposter: A Song Cycle

Chris Cudby / Photo credit: John Rata / Wednesday 23rd August, 2023 8:39AM

Debuted with a pair of low key events last May, Ron Gallipoli aka Sam Bradford's incomparable operetta An Imposter: A Song Cycle returns for a high profile five night run at Tāmaki Makaurau's Basement Theatre, as part of the Festival of Live Art (FOLA). Written by the aforementioned Aotearoa singer / producer, and co-starring i.e. crazy and Hillary 'Billie' Fee (Grecco Romank), An Imposter's darkly compelling three act narrative depicts a warped therapy session — "In murky circumstances, a psychologist urges a young woman to acknowledge her mother" — featuring live music performed by Hermione Johnson, Chris O'Connor and GHW.

We caught the show last year and can confirm it's an unmissable experience, reverberating through memory months after witnessing live. Ron Gallipoli and i.e. crazy answered our probing questions about their boundary-pushing stage production, nab tickets HERE and learn more about An Imposter below...

Ron Gallipoli Presents
An Imposter: A Song Cycle
Tuesday 29th August to Saturday 2nd September - Basement Theatre, Auckland

Tickets + more info available at

Chris Cudby: The operetta is a form of musical theatre which Aotearoa readers might associate with high school productions — why an operetta?

Ron Gallipoli: I don't like musicals in general, by which I mean things like CATS are really unpleasant to me, and even the ones that aren't by Andrew Lloyd Webber have a forced and brittle quality I don't like. But I am interested in the possibilities of using music and words and staged narrative together. I suspect there is a world of possibilities that are nothing at all like CATS that don't get explored very often, or at least not by the right artists.

I liked the idea of writing something that might technically be a musical, but that has dark, intimate, mysterious and pessimistic qualities instead of big casts and razzle-dazzle and the Hollywood kind of emotional profile.

And then I read this Wikipedia entry defining operetta: "Offenbach invented this art form in response to the French government's oppressive laws surrounding the stagings of works that were larger than one act or contained more than four characters”. That seemed like a pretty close match to what I was trying to do. One act, three characters; I guess it's an operetta.

Without providing 'spoilers', what themes are explored in An Imposter? Who are the main characters in this work? Where is it set?

Ron Gallipoli: The setting is a therapist's office. He is trying to convince a young woman to accept her mother as part of her family — she's convinced that the older woman is a fraud and an imposter, not her mother at all.

But none of them are really in control. It pokes at the borders of complicity and righteousness in an authoritarian society. I'd consider it a failure if people walked away feeling smug about knowing exactly who's in the right in this story.

Did the narrative for An Imposter take shape from your desire to make an operetta, or vice-versa? Where does An Imposter sit within the Ron Gallipoli oeuvre?

Ron Gallipoli: It started with a suggestion from Hermione Johnson that I write some songs for voice and piano. I thought it might be easier to write a coherent set of songs for this limited palette if I had some unifying thread. When the dramatic situation that became An Imposter came to mind, I thought: this scenario has dramatic potential, it's really a theatrical idea. I wanted to construct the whole narrative without any dialogue — fitting everything the audience needs to know into songs — but I didn't quite make it, so there is some dialogue, very little. I want to maintain some mystery and make the audience work a little bit, but without any dialogue it was just too cryptic, even the other singers didn't really understand what was going on.

Where it sits with the broader Ron Gallipoli oeuvre: frankly, I think it's better than what I've done before, because collaborating with others has forced me to be more patient and thoughtful. I like getting things 90% done, and then I want to move on. Once I know the piece of music could be great, it's almost like I don't need to finish it off, my imagination does the rest. But I'm starting to accept that no one else telepathically hears the finished song that I do, they hear the actual sounds on the recording, and that explains some of my general lack of success I think.

What hasn't changed is the mood and the lyrical style. It's pessimistic but a kind of accidental comedy always pokes through; I actually have to work to stop it from being too funny because it's not meant to be a comedy.

How much research / workshopping was involved?

Ron Gallipoli: I spent a few months of voluntary unemployment working on it. I was splitting my time between writing An Imposter and a novel, which is still unfinished, and then I ran out of money and had to go back to work. When I'd written the guts of all the songs I started showing them to Hermione and we planned a performance at the Polish Society, which happened last May.

Was the music developed with Hermione, Chris and GHW?

Ron Gallipoli: What I consider a song — the vocal part, the underlying chord progressions and bass parts, the dominant melody — I wrote those. But what you might call the arrangement is quite collaborative. I can't play piano well at all, and Hermione is very talented, so where I just had banging on a chord for 12 bars she'll put amazing arpeggios, all kinds of variations. Then it starts to sound less like a 'singer-songwriter', we get all those shades and dynamics, we can make it feel a little bit Morricone or Schubert; it's great what a real player can do.

It gets revised again practicing with bass and drums. Chris O'Connor is a lot like Hermione, I don't have to say much, just give them a few minutes to figure out something that fits the song and it's generally brilliant. GHW — who is my wife — doesn't actually play bass much in general, this is the only band she's ever played in and just about the only songs she's ever played. That's interesting in itself, because with a bit of practice it works just fine, she slots right in with these experienced musicians. And that says something interesting about the production of music and/or the nature of bass guitar.

Do you know of any other operettas which revolve around kind of perverse psychotherapy sessions?

Ron Gallipoli: I'm not aware of any. There should be more.

i.e crazy — how did you come to be involved with An Imposter? What role do you play?

i.e. crazy: Sam approached me early in 2022 with a clutch of songs asking if I’d be interested in taking part in the operetta. I’m a big fan of Ron Gallipoli and these new songs are a marked evolution in his songwriting ability; as he says, they are his best work — melodically and harmonically rich, inventive and, perhaps surprisingly, accessible.

I play Aggie, who is the “mother” figure in the triangle of characters. I still don’t know much about her but I glean a little bit more each time I sing her songs. Some of the songs Sam approached me with are sort of like the RG / i.e. crazy collaboration of my dreams; the ballads tap into something that feels familiar / homely in my own performance psyche — I think it’s the knife-edge of tenderness and brutality.

Is Sam a dictatorial figure to work with? How much collaboration is involved in the production?

i.e. crazy: Sam is far from dictatorial — or if he is pulling the strings, he’s doing it while ensuring everyone else feels like they’re in control too! It’s been collaborative in the sense that everyone’s voice and experience is valued, but it’s very much Sam’s show and creative progeny that we are attempting to birth. For me, it’s a real pleasure to step into a world and a character that’s already drafted — to be a passenger in the vehicle, so to speak — or perhaps just one of many wheels. It’s a space I rarely get to occupy in my own work and it’s reminded me of how much I enjoy singing a damn song.

Is An Imposter a physically / emotionally demanding work to participate in?

i.e. crazy: While performing emotionally intense work isn’t something I ever get used to (that would result in callousness), it is something I’m familiar with, so in that sense the operetta is very much in the psychological ballpark of some of my own work. That said, some of the content is really difficult to sing — the world is a hostile place in An Imposter and it articulates some very real personal and social fears. The two ballads Aggie sings in particular challenge me technically as a singer in their complexity, as well as my ability to tell a sustained story through voice and body over a 60 minute show. I hope to do them justice.


Share this
Subscribe/Follow Us
Don’t miss a thing! Follow us on your favourite platform  

Help Support Independent Music News
You can show your support to keep UnderTheRadar running by making a contribution. From $5, any amount can make a huge difference and keep us bringing you the best, comprehensive local content. ♥
Support UTR!