Melbourne-based, Indigenous singer-songwriter Jess Hitchcock is a voice that has accompanied many of Australia’s most esteemed music legends. She transcends genre, exemplified by her 2023 pop-driven album Unbreakable powered by her mezzo-soprano operatic background.

You may have even heard her vocals alongside Archie Roach, Tina Arena or Kate Miller-Heidke, but at this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Hitchcock stands on her own with her unique blend of jazz, blues, pop, music theatre and opera.

A Fine Romance features a unique blend of instruments to help Hitchcock transition through genres. Annie Silva on viola and Chris Connelly on guitar drop in and out as the songs need them.

This show tells the story of her life and journey through the world up to this point. It begins with ‘Cheek to Cheek’ — an homage to the voices of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, who opened her eyes to the musical world outside classical styles.

The next song, a blues, features Brisbane pianist and arranger of the evening’s tunes Luke Volker as he holds down a percussive role alongside Connelly.

The audience is treated to a number of Hitchcock’s original songs, and witty storytelling, beginning with ‘Bloodline’ from her 2019 album of the same name. This folky tune has a touch of music theatre in its storytelling as it explores First Nations identity through its physical connection to country and community.

The true musical theatre and opera styles follow with a rendition of ‘Woman’ from 2006 musical The Pirate Queen and ‘Where?’ from Kate Miller-Heidke’s opera The Rabbits. It is easy to become accustomed to Hitchcock’s voice and forget the level of power and clarity it has, as it seems so easy for her. There are some real spine-tingling moments as she soars and flits through the high points of the songs. It is hard to believe her when she says she had woken up the morning of the show with no voice.

One of the more remarkable facts she shares is that up to when she was first cast in an opera, she had never had a single singing lesson. It is clear her voice has almost always had the depth of colour she has become known for.

The second half of the show enters into pop territory beginning with ‘I Don’t Have the Heart’ and ‘Days Are Long’ from Unbreakable. From the same album, ‘Homeward Bound’ feels like a fresh step into the country. Her original song ‘By the Sea’ is a cute ditty accompanied by ukulele and a touch of whistling.

Special moments appear as she performs favourites from familiar collaborators of hers, with Paul Kelly’s ‘Every Day My Mother’s Voice’ and an emotional rendition of ‘The Jetty’ by Archie Roach. It almost feels as if there is something or someone else in the air.

Hitchcock has a strength and confidence in her voice that is rare. She shines when she shows the tenderness of her voice.

She ends the performance with a recreation of her noteworthy performance of Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ from the Rockwiz show at last year’s festival. Hitchcock gives absolutely everything, and it is spellbinding.

Her voice is not one that is easily forgotten, and one gets a sense that there is still a lot more to come from this artist who is set to become a key figure in Australia’s modern music history.

Jess Hitchcock A Fine Romance was presented in Space Theatre for one night only as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

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