It is a challenge to present a modern public with something of a soap-operetta like The Merry Widow. This light work profiles gender, marriage and loyalty to a small state very specifically and in a contrasting way to our contemporary approach.
Ringside seats to one of the greatest shows on earth are hard to come by but Opera Australia has some of the best in town, when they take over both the Joan Sutherland Theatre and the Concert Hall in the Sydney Opera House to stage two sensational performances right in the middle of the action. Continue reading OPERA AUSTRALIA’S NYE GLITZ AND GLAMOUR→
This joyous, frothy operetta is a sheer delight. Robert Andrew Greene’s TWO WEDDINGS ONE BRIDE is adapted from Charles Lecocq’s 1874 classic operetta Girofle-Girofla. Musically it blends some of the most famous and beautiful songs of the operetta repertoire (Strauss, Offenbach, Lehar, Kalman, Lecocq, Stolz ) yet at times it sounds like Mozart, Verdi or even Gilbert and Sullivan.
There is a lush Oriental minimal set design by Owen Phillips – looking as if it could be for The Abduction From The Seraglio or some such – and stunning costumes by Tim Chappel. Andrew Hallsworth’s choreography is inventive and the small cast of five perform with great comic timing.
This is a new production by Michael Gow and there have been some changes that make it an intriguing version. The music has been preserved as have the key plot ideas however the characters have been changed to provide them with more realistic and believable motivations. The opera is set in colonial Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) of the 1860’s.
One can nitpick about aspects of this Opera- the rather hurried and sloppy libretto , and especially the dramatic structure of the plot- where most of the major events in the story happen off-stage, and the crucial turning point is at the start Act 2, which means there is not much plot development or action for the remainder of the other two acts. As well, much of the story revolves around the villagers’ Hinduism, yet Ceylon has been a mostly Buddhist nation for the last millennium. As well, the opera is set in the supposedly seaside city of Kandy, which is in reality in the centre of the island, not near the sea – but that is 19th century Romantic opera for you! Continue reading OPERA AUSTRALIA PRESENTS THE PEARL FISHERS @ JOAN SUTHERLAND AUDITORIUM→
This major highlight of the 2016 Sydney Festival is a must see. Based on the acclaimed picture book by John Marsden and Shaun Tan, and the winner of several Helpmann Awards, THE RABBITS, adapted and directed by John Sheedy with score by Kate Miller-Hendke and libretto by Lally Katz, is a combined production between Opera Australia and Barking Gecko Theatre Company.
There are no exact references in the book to time and place, but the visual cues give the game away, with the play clearly set in Australia.
THE RABBITS tells a parable of out of control colonisation seen through the eyes of the Indigenous population, the Marsupials, and the disastrous impact of the Rabbits- the colonising British.
There were some stand-out scenes in including a disturbing ensemble number where the Rabbits get the Marsupials drunk, and a sombre march sequence where the Rabbits begin by destroying the landscape and end by abducting the children…
Composer and performer Kate Miller-Heidke in collaboration with Iain Grandage has devised a score that blends late 20th-century classical music with many other musical strands and influences, including interesting percussive effects and music ranging from music hall to electronic. The small band on stage was excellent and interacted, at one point, with the rest of the cast. Continue reading THE RABBITS @ ROSLYN PACKER THEATRE→
This production of Don Carlos is the 1884 four-act version and is an extremely impressive revival of the magnificent 1999 Elijah Moshinsky staging. It is the biggest production by Opera Australia since the recent Ring Cycle in Melbourne and at one point features over two hundred people on stage.
Verdi’s classic tragedy of the ‘fallen woman’, LA TRAVIATA, is enjoying a revival in Sydney via the lush realism of director Elijah Moshinsky’s 1994 version. The motifs of fragility, sacrifice and disintegration emerge from the striking detail of the salon scenes and effectively contrasted desolate locations.
Michael Yeargan’s four highly contrasted sets remain design achievements which are a treat for newcomers and former fans alike. The costuming created by Peter J Hall for both formal party scenes and domestic life complement each striking backdrop.
It has been said that there are two emotions, love and fear. The creative pairing of Puccini and Graeme Murphy is successful in vividly outlining such feelings in the current revival of Murphy’s stunning production.
Conductor Christian Badea presents a strong realisation of Puccini’s atmospheric score. Inspired by this music, Murphy uses intersecting movement prescribed for sub-sections of the ensemble as well as challenging unisons at times such as human waves depicting swirling emotions and troubled minds.
The setting, Peking’s Imperial Palace, is evoked with excellent composite sets and shifting textures as designed by Kristian Fredrikson. His detailed costuming and props dazzle, as does the choreography which asks for these to be manipulated during poses so as to hide or reveal the characters’ vulnerabilities or suggest general unrest. Continue reading Opera Australia’s Turandot @ The Dame Joan→
Succumb to Mephistopheles power in this lavish, opulent, thrilling production. Visually stunning, musically glorious, with three superb leading performers, this is a magical highlight of this year’s Opera Australia season.
The Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra under the energetic, dynamic and enthusiastic baton of maestro GuillaumeTourniaire delivered a lustrous, splendid performance of Gounod’s lush, hugely expansive score with an edgy tempo.The ensemble chorus work, under the direction of Anthony Hunt, was inspiring and well-balanced.
The plot of Gounod’s opera is deeply rooted in religion, superstition and morality. In Charles Francois Gounod’s opera, aged and despairing philosopher Faust (Michael Fabiano) sells his soul to the devil, Mephistopheles (Teddy Tahu Rhodes), in exchange for youth and the chance to pursue a beautiful innocent, Margeurite (Nicole Car). Continue reading Faust @ The Dame Joan→
Puccini’s early twentieth century opera MADAMA BUTTERFLY offers soloists and audience much of what they relish in the genre. The main characters are complex, with savage twists and turns in their emotional journeys. The music serves the drama well as the compact storyline hurtles towards its terrible conclusion.
The design and dramatic realisation of this Opera Australia production makes for a spellbinding night of theatre. The commitment of the cast to convey timeless feelings, struggles and the unique beauty of Puccini’s score ensures this example of opera is always fresh and relevant for 2015.
Conductor Anthony Legge brings the score to life with clarity and focus in moments of conversation, atmosphere or large arias alike. The brass entries with fragments of the US national anthem penetrate hauntingly.
Opera Australia is currently revisiting the Metropolitan Opera’s production of THE MAGIC FLUTE, first performed in Sydney in 2014. It is a stunning and simply beautiful illustration of the endurance of opera in a modern guise. Its scenes repeatedly proclaim opera as fantastic with high Fs, as well as resoundingly relevant in our modern creative world.
Mozart and librettist Schikaneder would love the transformation of their shifting dramatic epicentres and colourful characters in this production. The hyper-realism of tensions between the powerful Queen of the Night and the order of enlightened initiatives and priests is emphasised by Julie Taymor’s puppetry design and layered costumes. Continue reading The Magic Flute @ The Joan→
Sydney Arts Guide is a key part of stage and film culture, and exists to celebrate the art of performance, in theatres and cinemas.
2014 was a year of amazing diversity, and our twenty accredited specialist reviewers, were all spoiled for choice in the quality of the live theatre performances to be experienced in the City of Sydney, and the suburbs of Sydney.
As the old adage goes, “live theatre is not dead theatre, as there is a different performance to be experienced every night”. Our team of professional reviewers, have each nominated their personal preferences for both theatre and cinema. A small number of movies were nominated out of the hundreds of cinema films that were seen during the last twelve months.
At the end of another outstanding year for the arts in Sydney, on Wednesday 31st December 2014, Sydney Arts Guide announced its 2014 awards in these Stage and Screen categories:-
Opera Australia have brought to Sydney a most splendid production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s THE KING AND I with a gigantic cast and glorious , lavishly opulent ,dazzling sets and costumes .Directed by Christopher Renshaw ,it is an aural , olfactory and visual feast and treat : Brian Thomson’s set designs are outstanding as are Roger Kirk’s costumes. The curtains, screens etc allow for almost cinematic fluid scene changes , torches burn brightly and incense wafts through the auditorium.
This comic opera gem by Donizetti is being performed in a rollicking revival production by Opera Australia. Simon Phillips’ direction of the opera buffa is set in rural Australia in 1915, complete with typical soldiers and civilians. It manages to maintain all tensions, humour and spontaneity of the original Italian scenes.
Whilst period colloquialisms enliven the surtitles, as well as horses, sheep, cows and chickens being omnipresent, Donizetti’s music and characters are never compromised. The colourful set and props reflect Australia’s traditional and modern relationship to corrugated iron. High-quality traditional singing and acting emerge from a cartoon-like twentieth century packaging.
This cast is capable of offering strong personas in line with classic opera buffa characters. Successful solo patter singing and energetic work in groups from duet through to full ensemble help the action gallop along. From an initial side-saddle entry Rachelle Durkin’s Adina continues to be a suitably bold sheila who also demonstrates what bel canto singing is all about. She is radiating in the fabulous freshness of Gabriela Tylesova’s costume design. Continue reading The Elixir of Love→
Musically this new version of Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ is superb and thrilling with spectacularly brilliant performances from the wonderful orchestra under Maestro Jonathan Darlington (featuring the fortepiano played by Siro Battaglin for the recitative) and the glorious cast led by the great Teddy Tahu-Rhodes.
Sir David McVicar’s direction is deft and assured. This is a bleak, dark production, with quite a cold ‘feel’ .There is a swooping black curtain hiding most of the set when we enter. The huge set resembles a bombed/ruined palace with rubble, and there are pieces of marble everywhere.
Opera Australia currently celebrates Guiseppe Verdi’s OTELLO with a very fine revival currently playing at the Sydney Opera House.
This production was first successfully presented in 2003, then returned in 2008. Costumed as twentieth century civilians, officers, senators or ambassadors, the cast and chorus perform in fine voice above the orchestra led with great clarity by Christian Badea.
Verdi’s shifting orchestral textures and scoring for separate instrumental sections could even be said to play the role of atmospheric film music, enhancing the story and dialogue. The score’s dramatic subtleties and climaxes were at all times successfully maintained by Badea’s control of his orchestra.
The story of ‘Othello’ from Shakespeare follows the Moor and his new Venetian bride who are destroyed by Iago, revenging his recent demotion in Othello’s troops. A huge statue of the god Atlas is the centrepiece to a steep staircase set on stage. New Zealand-born tenor Simon O’Neill brings the heavily burdened and insecure Otello to our shores, as well as explosive reactions and a superb command of the stage. His heroic tenor voice soars over Cyprus, through the Dame Joan Sutherland Theatre and to the cast spilling down the set in his initial ‘Esultate! L’orgoglio musulmano sepolto è in mar’.
The early love duet ‘Già nella notte densa s’estingue ogni clamo’ between Lianna Haroutounian’s Desdemona and O’Neill’s Otello features finely blended lyricism. The balance between the vocalists and orchestra is here simply ‘edge of the seat stuff’, showing us the extra dimension opera adaptations have to offer. Also captivating are Haroutounian’s vocal outbursts and varied vocal colour as she fears jealous Otello. Her versions of the ‘Willow Song’ and ‘Ave Maria’ in Act 4 are exquisite, with stunning shifts in timbre and register. Her acting in other scenes is a fine portrayal of Desdemona’s innocence and panicked disbelief.
Claudio Sgura’s Iago has a truly villainous appearance and stage presence. He moves through the libretto and scored numbers with great flexibility in his baritone voice. Sgura’s ‘Credo in un Dio crudel’ is a highlight. It maintained interest through the use of his voice type and physical use of the stage.
Full cast scenes are a vocal and visual feast, with fluid movement, in all directions, despite it being a very ‘full’ stage. The opening sequence for Otello’s stormy arrival is an arresting way to bring both the experienced and first-time audience member into the world of opera and to OTELLO, the opera. The Opera Australia Chorus members are well showcased and elegantly costumed when welcoming the hero as Venetian senators and dignitaries in Act Three with;‘ Il Doge ed il Senato salutano l’eroe trionfatore.’
This production of an opera which brought Verdi out of semi-retirement is a dazzling display of how opera can entertain. It has great appeal as a dynamic and successful production which further enhances the original tragedy whilst demonstrating the possibilities and accessibility of Shakespeare as well as Verdi’s operas.
Opera Australia’s production of OTELLO is playing the Joan Sutherland theatre at the Sydney Opera House until 2nd August.
George Bizet’s CARMEN has been wowing opera-goers for over 140 years now with its alluring mixture of the unpredictable and dangerous, love and loathing, and, as the program notes state, “the ultimate femme fatale is back to stamp her feet, toss her hair and dance”.
As a staple of Opera Australia’s programming (the last major run at the Opera House was only a couple of years ago), American director Francesca Zambello was presented with a real challenge in bringing something fresh to the story of that most famous of feisty gypsy girls and the ultimately doomed desires of her suitors, whilst at the same time maintaining the levels of passion and intensity both musically and visually that the audience has come to expect.
It is hard to believe that this is the bicentenary of the first production of this work, and that it has been rarely performed. An absolute musical and visual treat, a hilarious blaze of slapstick and colour, ‘The Turk in Italy’ by Rossini with its original Italian libretto by Felice Romani has been spectacularly re-imagined for the 21st century by a brilliant creative team .
It is musically superb .The Australian Opera and Ballet orchestra under the wickedly delightful and exuberant conducting of maestro Andrea Molino is in fine form and the singing is fabulous.
This is one production where close attention must be paid to the very contemporary subtitles by Simon Philips (at times very witty but they can also be vulgar, but always much fun).
No choreographer is credited, but the chorus have a wonderful time in a medley of very tightly set 1960’s-ish style dances (sort of think ‘Grease’ in a way) particularly in Act 2 with the multiple Elvises and Marilyns . And the extended opening at the beach with its bathing beauties and clumsy men, all put to the overture is magnificent.
The set is very Italy 1960’s, a revolve within a revolve, featuring a red and white Cafe Geronio, and the busy kitchen and penthouse and curved grassy knolls .One can imagine that there is a Vespa just parked around the corner and Prosdocimo will bring the cocktails and expressos shortly..
Samuel Dundas as Prosdocimo , aka ‘the poet’ , in this production dressed as a frantic waiter, seeking inspiration for his play ,is the central figure that skilfully , wittily holds the opera together in a terrific , scintillating performance as he carefully parodies, observes and at times manipulates the goings on of the people he deals with and serves . The trio for him and Geronio and Selim, as just one example, is tremendous.
This is a seaside town in summer and as can be expected tourist foreigners arrive by the boatload. One brings a band of gypsies and circus acrobats led by swarthy, scruffy Albazar (Graeme Macfarlane), who arrive almost simultaneously as a shipload of Turks , their head honcho being Pasha Selim. Selim was delightfully played and tremendously sung by Paolo Bordogna who gives a fabulous performance as the somewhat ridiculous yet macho and ‘hot’ primping poseur channelling at first The Artist Formerly Known as Prince and then Elvis who tries to get into bed with the local temptress Fiorilla.
As sad, lovesick Zaida, ( Selim’s first love who had been sold into slavery in the backstory and escaped) Anna Dowsley is magnificent She sings gloriously and looks as if she stepped out of a Picasso painting.
As Narcisso , Geronio’s ‘friend’ who is desperately in love with Fiorilla, Luciano Botelho has a strong, flexible tenor voice and brings the house down particularly with his second act aria when he is changing in the bathing shed.
Emma Matthews as Fiorilla steals the show from her first joyous, exuberant entrance. She sings divinely, is a fantastic comic actress, and has us enthralled from her first appearance singing of the joys of love . At the start she is flighty, flirty and determined to have a very good time however this changes in Act 2 and her enforced moral u-turn with her big show stopping aria where she gloriously lets rip with a dazzling technical display that ravishes as she decides to return to the arms of Geronio .
Conal Coad as Geronio, her far older sugar-daddy husband has a whale of a time imitating his late middle-aged pomposity. Coad gives a masterly demonstration of buffo style, his distinctive bass always serving the text and yet also capable of some pretty nifty very fast breathless patter, quite G & S in style. The duet for Geronio and the Turk, for example , where the latter tries to haggle unsuccessfully to buy the former’s wife, is delightful and leads to a comic duel with lots of sight gags incorporating each protagonist’s national drinks , ice on delicate areas , lemons as bitter hand weapons, and a soda syphon that ends up all over Prosdocimo.
As I overheard another audience member say at the end ‘very silly, but absolutelywonderful ‘ Hear hear. Book now, if you haven’t already, before it sells out. Opera Australia have brought us this delicious gelato of a very fresh and vibrant version, – go on , treat yourself.
Running time 3 hours (approx) including an interval
Opera Australia’s The Turk in Italy, directed by Simon Phillips, is at the Sydney Opera House various dates in rep until February 12 and then plays Arts Centre Melbourne, May 1-13.
Lush, lavishly lyrical evenings don’t come much better than this .This is a sensational return of last year’s smash hit, sold out, hot ticket, glorious production with some cast changes. The overall quality of the production is superb, it is rare to see such a splendid version as this is both in the exceptional cast and the terrific production values. It is easy to forget that this musical was very controversial when it premiered in 1949.
At its centre are two parallel stories on a tropical island during World War 2 about racism and interracial relationships:- Nellie struggling to accept that Emile was previously married to a Polynesian woman , and Lieutenant Cable’s romance with Liat also battles prejudices.
Nowadays, 60 years or so on, directors tend to treat the racial elements in the show as just another part of the story, rather than as being the throbbing heart of the show.
Opera Australia production has based its production around director Bartlett Sher’s 2008 Broadway revival and it develops and explores the relationships and tensions that won Rodgers and Hammerstein the Pulitzer Prize. This is a sensitive, highly detailed yet sometimes deceptively simple production where each scene and the development of the characters are crystallised by Sher in great breadth and overall integrity. The show has had over 1000 performances on Broadway with 7 Tony awards and is still drawing in the crowds.
Lisa McCune as Nellie Forbush gives a luminous, relaxed performance, positively glowing at times. We see her character change, grow and develop, facing up to internally held prejudices she doesn’t even realise she has , in a splendid performance. Her ‘ I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair’ is much fun, and there is delicious comic fun in ‘Honey Bun’ during the Follies in Act 2.
Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Emile, with his huge, richly dark majestic voice like melting chocolate, is sensational. Towering, he is charismatic , elegant and captivating , using all his Gallic charm to enthral Nellie, and us! A gentle and loving father, he is also capable of being strong, dangerous and sinister. Rhodes is in fine voice , delighting us with his magical ‘Some Enchanted Evening ’in Act 1 and his ’This Nearly Was Mine ‘ in Act 2 brings the house down .
Lt.Cable is excellently played and sung by Blake Bowden who has a fabulous tenor voice. He succumbs to the magic of the Island yet cannot allow himself to marry Liat, the young Polynesian woman he falls in love with, because of what people might think back home. Again, he is battling prejudices. His yearning, dazzling ‘ Younger Than Springtime’ is magnificent .
Christine Anu as Bloody Mary is superb. In some ways she is slightly sinister and has a finger in every pie with regards to events on the Island. Her ‘Bali Ha’i’ is mesmerizing and hypnotic.
Gyton Grantley as Luther Billis, has a terrific energy and gruff humour, hiding a deeply caring heart, in particular enjoying himself when clowning around with McCune in ‘Honey Bun’ . He can sing, act and dance (and skip and trip from stage right to left with comic flair and secret nefarious dealings).
The men’s chorus have much fun as exuberant seabees, sailors and more. ‘There Is Nothing Like A Dame’ with its precision timing was jaunty, boisterous and yet wistful. The ladies chorus (of nurses etc – for example in ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair ’) were also splendid.
The set designs by Michael Yeargan were stunning and the lighting designs by Donald Holder glorious . I loved the lattice like shadow effects and the wonderful Island effects.
The magnificent Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra under the glittering direction of Vanessa Scammell played the wonderful toe- tapping Rodgers score exuberantly.
Some enchanted evening indeed, for both young and old.
South Pacific runs at the Joan Sutherland auditorium, Sydney Opera House until Saturday November 2013. Running time is approximately 3 hours with one interval.
LA TRAVIATA is an audience classic opera favourite and a regular repertoire staple and this superb, ravishing revival of this sumptuous 1994 production shows why. Scandalous and shocking at the time of its 1853 premiere, the now classic tale of poor Violetta and Alfredo , of consumption and thwarted true love is based on a Dumas novel. Moshinsky , Yeargan and Hall set it in 1877 -so bustles rather than crinolines and the start of the ‘Belle Epoque’.
Yeargan’s designs are themed around the seasons .Act 1 with its wonderful centrepiece chandelier is softly sumptuous and glowing . Act 2 with its grey /green and bare look with the cold garden is chilly .And Act 3 ,with its wonderful use of Vermeer like- lighting was also impressive.
Our hero , handsome Alfredo ( Arnold Rutowski) was swoon-worthy in Act 1 especially when he reveals his love to Violetta (Un dì, felice, eterea – “One day, happy and ethereal”).Like Violetta the audience was enraptured and sighing . He perhaps had a slight problem in Act2 but was back in fine form again for the marvellous duets etc in Act 3.
Our heroine Violetta was magnificently sung and acted by Emma Matthews who carried the demanding role wonderfully well. She acts superbly ( that she and Alfredo fall in love is very believable) yet perhaps some of the vocal coloratura seems to be really stretching and challenging her voice. She is positively giddy ,radiant and blooming in the ‘Ah, fors’è lui’ – “Ah, perhaps he is the one”) and enchanting in the ‘ Brindisi ‘ ( the famous drinking song) that brings Act1 to a close. Her act2 “Dite alla giovine sì bella e pura, – “Tell the young girl, so beautiful and pure,”) was fragile and moving. In Act3 her ill transformation is shocking and troubling.
Another (almost) unexpected star of the evening was Jose Carbo as Giorgio Germont , Alfredo’s father , who sang more than superbly and was astonishing , his full throttle voice completely dominating the theatre. Elegant in a suit he stopped the show with his ‘ Pura siccome un angelo ‘– “Pure as an angel, God gave a daughter ‘ , pleading with Violetta to break off with Alfredo and ‘Di Provenza il mar, il suol chi dal cor ti cancellò? – “Who erased the sea, the land of Provence from your heart?”) angrily to Alfredo in Act2 . The scenes between Matthews and Carbo in act 2 are wrenching and performed magnificently. He was also marvellous in the trios in Act 3 .
The chorus has a delightful time in Act 1 as guests at Violetta’s party and in Act2 Sc2 as ‘gypsies ‘ and ‘matadors’ – much fun.( in Act2 Barclay has great fun parodying ‘Strictly Ballroom’ . ) Under the very energetic and enthusiastic baton of Patrick Lange the orchestra sparkled.
An enthralling, totally believable production that moved and delighted the audience.
Running time 3 hours ( approx) including 2 intervals
Verdi’s LA TRAVIATA runs at the Joan Sutherland Theatre Sydney Opera House in rep various dates between July 30 and August 31 2013
This is a charming, sparkling production of Donizetti’s 1843 comic opera ‘DON PASQUALE’. It has been updated to the 1950’s , so think Fellini films, Audrey Hepburn in ‘Roman Holiday’ , Vespas, stunning glamorous dresses , the smell of a double expresso waiting for you at the outdoor cafe ……
The very light plot, Commedia Dell’Arte in style, of tricked old men, deceived lovers and uncles with a ‘moral’ for the audience at the end is all a glittering excuse for showcasing some superb singing from the four main leads.
The production features stunning, elegant set designs by Richard Roberts where ’Sophronia’/Norina’s influence in Act 2 is indicated with changes to lamps , cushions and drapes. The garden and fountain scene in Act2 is lovely. There is a clever use of a revolve for scene changes.
Matt Scott’s lighting designs, especially for Act 2 Sc.1 showing the stretch of hours when poor Ernesto was made homeless, were glorious. Under the dynamic, very energetic conducting of maestro Guillaume Tournaire the orchestra sparkles.
Donnizetti’s delicious , quite balletic melodies are beautifully played. Rodger Hodgman’s direction moves the show along at a cracking pace and it is light with only a few places for melancholy or pathos .
The chorus is mostly featured in the second half as assorted new servants employed by ‘Sophronia ‘ ( Norina),- they are maids, footmen, beauty therapists, jewellers etc . They are tightly moved in large blocks of quite boxed choreography, wittily commenting on the goings on.
With regards to the four leads: Conal Coad as ‘DON PASQUALE’ showcases a terrific bass voice. He has a very expressive face .He handles the very difficult breathlessly fast tongue twisting ‘patter songs’ after interval wonderfully well. We see how ‘Sophronia’s’ ( Norina’s) slap after the (fake) wedding changes everything . He turns from a seeming horrid , wicked uncle obsessed with his stamp collection, to a man beaming benevolence and forgiveness.
Our hero , passionate , tempestuous ,lovelorn Ernesto, was magnificently sung by Ji-min Park in fine voice. His ‘Poor Ernesto’ in Act 1 , where he is despairing , homeless and gets thrown out of the closing cafe , (Cercherò lontana terra – “I shall seek a distant land ‘). was sensational. The Act 2 duet with Norina in the garden ( ‘ Tornami a dir che m’ami ‘– ‘Say again that you love me’ ) was lush and lyrical , his solo just before ( ‘Com’è gentil ‘ – ‘How gentle’ ) simply melting .
Rachelle Durkin as Norina/ Sophronia is tremendous and gives a very strong ‘feminist’ reading of her character. Tall, lanky with wonderful red hair she agrees to the scheme for the sake of the man she loves. Her rehearsal with Dr. Malatesta in Act 1 was great fun, ‘Pronta son; purch’io non manchi – “I am ready; if I do not miss” and her sudden change from a seemingly demure , shy trembling young woman to a confident , demanding elegant spitfire was terrific. She delighted audiences with her managing of the difficult , showy coloratura passages.
Handsome Samuel Dundas as Doctor Malatesta was smoothly charming and manipulating . He has a wonderful aria in Act 1 describing DON PASQUALE‘s potential bride ( ‘Bella siccome un angelo ‘– ‘Beautiful like an angel ‘).
At the conclusion of the opera , the four main players discuss the moral of the story – that it’s foolish to consider marriage in old age – in a quartet entitled ‘ La moral di tutto questo – ‘The moral of all this ‘. Aaahh .. delightful romantic intrigue in Rome in summer!
Donizetti’s ‘DON PASQUALE’, with a running time of 2 hours and 40 minutes, runs at the Joan Sutherland Theatre Sydney Opera House on various dates in repertory until Thursday August 15, 2013.
This new production by John Bell for Opera Australia is controversial and is sharply dividing audiences and critics alike. It is dark, bleak and has volcanically passionate undertones.
This challenging, unsettling revival has seen the narrative reset to Rome in the 1940’s, with the Nazi occupation. Guns, death and violence everywhere – beware!
Musically the production is superb, with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra under the baton of maestro Christian Badea playing superbly. At a couple of points one could hear hints of his ‘ Madama Butterfly’ , ‘Turandot ‘ and ‘ La Boheme’ – sometimes starkly dramatic , sometimes lyrically passionate.
Special mention must be made of the more than wonderful opulent Baroque church set design for Act 1. Act 2 is far more sinister, Scarpia’s office is dominated by a long table and huge Swastika banners. I also liked the large windows. Act 3 is even darker and greyer with a huge staircase and barbed wire as the interior of a prison camp.
As Floria Tosca, Alexia Voularidou is sensational – a riveting actress and singer and her Act 2 gown, in particular, is stunning. Alexia is every inch a diva with a pure top range. She plays a jealous flirtatious minx , charming and delightful , in Act 1, and a strong woman out to save her lover in the other two acts.
Her duets with Cavaradossi are tremendous and her torn, pleading ‘Vissi d’arte’ full of fear and anguish in Act 2 stops the show .A quibble however would be that her murder of Scarpia , Medea like, yet also in self defence, with bloodied hands, caused squirms , murmurs and some shocked laughter in the audience.
As Cavaradossi, our tormented painter hero, Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee is in fine voice. He sings at full throttle through the entire show- I would perhaps have liked a little more light and shade. His big aria in Act 1 ‘Recondita armonia’ is beautifully sung and his letter aria ‘E Lucevan le stelle’ in Act 3 was marvelous. In Act II, Mario’s fiery defiance of his captors includes tearing down one of the Swastika decorations, which was later used by Tosca to cover the dead Scarpia (a deft use of the “crooked cross” in place of the standard crucifix).
As Iago -like cold, malevolent Baron Scarpia, John Wegner is chillingly brilliant with a rumbling bass. He is narcissistic, confident and takes what he wants whenever he wants it. Menacing and implacable, his explosive volcanic impulses are barely controlled and hidden. His hypocritical leading of the Act 1 finale is thrilling. In Act 2 he molests the only woman officer present and no one tries to stop him. Rome trembles with fear.
Escaped prisoner Angelotti, Cavaradossi’s friend, was marvelously sung by David Parkin. John Bolton Wood had great fun in Act1 as the sacristan, and the children’s choir was delightful. Another excellent imaginative piece of stage drama was during the introduction at the beginning of Act 3 where we see a number of yellow-star-wearing Jewish people managing to bribe their way out of prison just in time , the ‘shepherd boy ‘ aria neatly fitting in here .
A darkly disturbing revival, thrillingly sung. Running time is 3 hours including two intervals.
Opera Australia’s TOSCA, runs various dates in repertory at the Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House until August 31, 2013.
Three cheers for this delightful children’s version of THE MAGIC FLUTE by Oz Opera, the educational side of Opera Australia. Bright, bold and colourful the show is enormous fun. Both adults and children loved it, with the children asking plenty of questions in the Q & A session afterwards.
The production is a heavily cut version ( just on an hour) of Mozart’s much loved opera , sung by a small cast with piano accompaniment. It is sung in English which makes it very accessible for young school kids. The complicated plot is clearly told with the famous arias included.
The small cast were magnificent, in glorious voice and they performed with relish and gusto. The show featured audience participation, with the kids helping the Lady with her spells, and acting as echoes to Papageno’s pipes.
The set was small and simple, primarily two ‘rocks’ and a couple of curtains and doors. There was a kind of panto feel to the Monster, who whilst tall, is not really scary, – rather more like Dorothy the Dinosaur.
Her Majesty the Queen of the Night (Regina Daniel) is imposing and sparkly in black and silver with long black gloves, an elegant villainess who superbly handles the famous, very difficult, showy coloratura fireworks in the big aria.
Sarastro is mostly in beige or white (Obi Wan like) .He is aloof and scary at first with his marvellous deep bass voice but turns out to be a ‘goodie’ . What is the symbolism of the gold breastplate he wears? The Masonic ideas and symbolism are still kept in this version. Tamino still has to try the three doors, of Wisdom, Love and Truth. Hieroglyphs decorate the various door portals and the doors are painted yellow and turquoise, depicting the shift between day and night
As Papageno, Ashley Giles is brilliant, a compelling Pied Piper with his pipes and birdcage. His interaction with the children in the audience before the show started was delightful. His motley colourful costume included a scattering of feathers to camouflage him as part of his job,- catching birds for the Queen of the Night. Papageno is played as if a Hobitt, a not very bright, impulsive homebody who does not want any adventures but gets them anyway! Papagena , his long wished for girlfriend gloriously sung by Regina Daniel, is sort of dressed as if hippie/flower power inspired and she wears a large orange flower in her hair. Their rhythmic stuttering ‘Papageno/Papagena.. ‘ duet is charming.
As Prince Tamino Kaine Hayward is splendid , in fabulous voice and he looks like he is straight out of a fairy tale book. Princess Pamina (Alice Girle) is sweetly beautiful in a long blue gown .Once she has met and fallen in love with Tamino she proves strong, controlled and determined. At the end Tamino and Pamina wear gold and white ceremonial robes for their coronation, symbolising they have passed all of Sarastro’s tests ( silence, water, fire…) .
A splendid way of introducing young kids to opera. Bravo!
Opera Australia’s Oz Operas’ THE MAGIC FLUTE with a running time of one hour and fifteen minutes played the Concourse Chatswood for one night only Wednesday July 10.
Love, blood, honour, revenge and an obsession with death are the main themes of this long, verbose and at times strangely disturbing work rarely seen here in Sydney.
Set in the mid eighteenth century , this production is visually dominated by skulls and death – for a lot of the show a giant silver ( reliquary ? ) skull – at times representing Leonora’s hermit cave- is on stage .There’s also a feeling of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘ The Red Masque of Death’ at times , also ‘Phantom of the Opera’ , with the use of the masks .The chorus also ‘play dead’ at times, and there is almost a French Revolution tumbrel like entrance for the gypsy fortune teller Preziosilla (Who can foretell death through her Tarot cards) . And most of the characters are presented as zombie like with white faces and huge dead eyes. There are also hints of Goya’s and Delacroix’s work.
Musically the production was superb, the singing was outstanding and the orchestra was well led by Andrea Licata.
Our poor, emotionally torn and tortured heroine Leonora was tremendously sung by soprano Svetla Vassileva. It is a huge and difficult role and she handled it superbly, from her opening aria where she is being undressed and changed by her maids (‘Me pellegrina ed orfana – “Exiled and orphaned far from my childhood home”) to the very sad ending . The sense of ritual and formality is established with Leonora in her very stiff, formal dress in the first scenes.
Riccardo Massi as our hero Don Alvaro is tall and magnificent, a splendid performance .His ‘La vita è inferno … O tu che in seno agli angeli – “Life is a hell to those who are unhappy….Oh, my beloved, risen among the angels” ‘was glorious . As Don Carlo, Leonora’s brother hell bent on revenge, Jonathan Summers was also terrific (the duet where they ironically swear friendship after Don Alvaro saves the life of Don Carlo in battle is wonderful ) .
From the opening dramatic chords this production makes a special emphasis and feature of Preziosilla (Rinat Shaham), manipulating and controlling all the events. She is a dynamic, rather sinister presence, a cross between Carmen and Fate, in fine voice (her big production number is ‘Rataplan , rataplan’ in Act 3 ). However I agree with some of my colleagues who found her constant lurking around at times intrusive and unnecessary.
Special mention must be made of the wonderful singing of Giacomo Prestia as Padre Guardiano, Warwick Fyfe as Fra Melitone, and Kanen Breen as the shifty pedlar, Mastro Trebuco.
The production featured some striking visual effects – from the marvellous front curtain with the Inca like portraits, the huge giant statue of the Madonna, and the glorious chorus and huge amounts of candles for Leonora’s Act1 I aria ‘Sono giunta! … Madre, pietosa Vergine’ in the church. Special mention must be made of the wonderful singing of Giacomo Prestia as Padre Guardiano, Warwick Fyfe as Fra Melitone, AMD Kanen Breen as Mastro Trebuco.
A testing, chilling production, an exciting way to start this year’s Winter season.
THE FORCE OF DETAILS runs at the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Penrith on various dates in repertoire until Tuesday 23 July, 2013. Running time 3 hours 45 minutes including 2 intervals