Opera

TOSCA

Yonghoon Lee as Cavoradossi and Alexia Voulgoridou as Floria Tosca. Pic Prudence Upton
Yonghoon Lee as Cavoradossi and Alexia Voulgoridou as Floria Tosca. Pic Prudence Upton

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.

 

THE MAGIC FLUTE

magic flute

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.

THE FORCE OF DESTINY

THE FORCE OF DESTINY

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

 

 

 

 

BECOMING TRAVIATA

Love found and then lost in BECOMING TRAVIATA
Love found and then lost in BECOMING TRAVIATA

This superb, enthralling film will have opera and theatre people agog. One of the many films of this year’s Sydney Film Festival it came under their ‘Sounds on Screen’ section. It is a fascinating insight, a unique documentary behind the scenes of an opera production- in this case LA TRAVIATA at the Aix En Provence festival of 2011, directed by Jean-François Sivadier .

Based on Alexandre Dumas’ play LA DAME AUX CAMELIAS, the Opera is a standard in the repertoire of almost every Opera Company and the protagonist, Violetta, is regarded as a major test piece of a soprano’s career.

For those unfamiliar with it, the plot of  LA TRAVIATA is briefly as follows, – Violetta, a top Parisian courtesan, finds her true love and a chance of redemption with a young man, Alfredo, but then is forced to give all that up when the young man’s father pressures her to sacrifice her love for the happiness of his family , saving Alfredo’s sister from scandal. From wild parties to pure love to a lonely death from consumption, LA TRAVIATA is about a woman’s life, intensely lived, followed by her heroic sacrifice .

Some would nitpick that film director Béziat does not give us a brief summary of the plot as above of the opera beforehand, rather he just assumes we are  opera lovers  familiar with it and he jumps straight in .Others would carp that there is no interview with Dessay and her thoughts about playing Violetta. Instead, we have a scene with a rehearsal pianist enthusiastically analysing the drama in Verdi’s music (for example when Violetta tries to steel herself to break up with Alfredo and how this is shown in the music). We also see a scene where Dessay and Sivadier analyse a single phrase – ‘E Strano’ (‘how strange’) .

Instead BECOMING TRAVIATA concentrates on Verdi’s glorious music and the fascinating intensive rehearsal process.  In the film directed by Philippe Béziat we follow renowned soprano Natalie Dessay joining forces with innovative opera and theatre director Jean-François Sivadier in their challenging, risk taking production. Orchestrally, it features the excellent London Symphony Orchestra who play Verdi’s tumultuous, passionate music gloriously. The camera work is superb with occasional tremendous use of close up.  I loved the lingering over the messy paint studio, and the shocking transformation of Dessay to a white faced very ill Violetta towards the end.

We see tech rehearsals and planning, huge (sometimes confused) chorus and also the more intimate individual rehearsals for the leads (Alfredo and Violetta especially) . Sivadier, always energetic and full of ideas, reminds Dessay that VIoletta can be in fact as heavy and demanding a role as HAMLET or Nina in Chekov’s THE SEAGULL. There are also Ophelia like references.

Director Beziat attempts to document the ‘Sivadier method’. Yes there are wonderful close ups but Sivadier’s  approach discards ‘traditional’ hoary choreography , old fashioned crinolines and a huge feature chandelier for a far more ‘Expresionistic’ almost Tanztheater approach seeking to completely emotionally involve the audience. We see the cast refine their movements, characters, articulation and gestures and how Sivadier has developed a tremendous rapport with his cast during the challenging but exciting rehearsals.

Diva Natalie Dessay is amazing and gives her all. Her ‘Sempre Libre’ is amazing in Act 1 and the shattering finale is heartbreaking. We also see her rehearse Violetta’s collapse at the end . Terribly handsome tenor Charles Castronovo (Alfredo) is magnificent and sings divinely. His solo arias ‘ De’ miei bollenti spiriti / Il giovanile ardore ‘ are wonderful and the duets exceptional. And there is the catchy well known Brindisi drinking song in Act 1 ‘Libiamo ne’ lieti calici . Alfredo’s father Giorgio Germont is marvellously played by rumbling bass – baritone Ludovic Tézier .His ‘ Pura siccome un angelo’ from Act 2 is tremendous .

Various shots of the production are interwoven with actual performance combined to create a fascinating, enthralling film. Bravo !

The complete production of this version of LA TRAVIATA was filmed and is available separately on DVD.

BECOMING TRAVIATA was part of the Sydney film Festival screening 13 and 15 June.  Running time  was 113 minutes. The documentary was screened in French with English subtitles.

 

OPERA’S TRIPLE THREAT

 

Cheryl Baker
Cheryl Baker

A hefty combined birthday party (centenary for Britten, bicentenary for both Verdi and Wagner) this concert featured the combined dazzling talents of the  Sydney Philharmonia Festival Chorus and Orchestra under conductors Brett Weymark and Anthony Pasquill and especially the magnificent voices of Cheryl Barker and Stuart Skelton.

In the theatrical world, a ‘triple threat’ is an inspiring someone who can dance, sing and act. For this concert the idea was that the operatic ‘triple threat’ combined music, drama and passion and it did so in spades.

These were tenor Stuart Skelton’s only Sydney performances this year, straight after performances in London and just before he performs in the Paris , Seattle and Melbourne ‘Ring’ cycles and has  a return performance in Berlin with Sir Simon Rattle .It was the first time he has sung excerpts from Verdi’s ‘Otello’ and he did so brilliantly . Soprano Cheryl Barker has just finished performing ‘Madama Butterfly’ for the Welsh National Opera and we will soon see her in Opera Australia’s ‘Tosca’, and as Desdemona Queensland Opera’s ‘Otello’.

The Sydney Philharmonia Festival Chorus with over three hundred voices, was sensational – a stirring , thrilling performance. They were an energised, broiling mass , at times angry , at times celebratory or reflective – a huge wave of sound.

The Orchestra was excellent, dealing with everything from the sharp , spiky Britten in the first section to the lush, rather overwhelming Wagner in the final part.

Youngest first. The wonderful opening section was selections from Britten’s ‘Peter Grimes’. ( For those of us of a particular era the ‘Sea Interludes’ from this will always be associated with Graeme Murphy’s ‘Some Rooms’.) The opening section, ’Dawn’, conjured visions of shimmering sunlight and rippling waves. Other sections were far more tempestuous. The chorus ‘Old Joe Has Gone Fishing’ to a galvanising insistent drum roll was terrific.

Stuart Skelton stopped the show with his glorious , breathtaking solo ‘Now The Great Bear and Pleiades’ . Barker sang ’Embroidery In Childhood’ exquisitely. (She wore a long elegant blue gown throughout the show , Skelton traditional theatrical black ).

Back a hundred years for a selection from Verdi’s ‘Otello’ .Proud and passionate this section had aural hints of ‘Aida’, ‘Il Trovatore’ and ‘Turandot’ . It opened tempestuously, the chorus fabulous in their storm drenched yet celebratory ‘ Una Vela!Una Vela! Un Vessilo! ‘. Their ‘Viva !Evviva ! Viva il Leon di San Marco !’ was an extraordinary wall of sound.

There was a wonderful , touching duet for Chery l Barker as Desdemona and Stuart Skelton as Otello ( ‘ Gia nella  nota densa’) and Desdemona’s ‘Willow Song ‘ ( ‘ Piangea Cantando  nell’erma landa’ ) was tremendous. But Skelton brought the house down with his superb rendering of Otello’s tense death scene ‘ Nium mi Tema ‘ that was tremendously sung and acted.

After interval the third section featured excerpts from Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’, ‘Tannhauser’ and ‘Meistersinger ‘ . Highlights included the opening now world famous ‘Wedding March ‘ or Bridal Chorus ( ‘Treulich Gefurt’ ) and Lohengrin’s amazing solo ‘ in fernem Land, unnabar euren Schritten’ ) – once again Skelton was absolutely magnificent . Various other solos were used to showcase Barker and Skelton’s tremendous talents as well as that of the chorus in this vast, rather over-rich and overpowering section. Extra horns supplemented the brass section of the Orchestra for both this Wagner and the Verdi segments.

An absolutely ravishing, glorious concert that gave one goosebumps and shivers.

OPERA’S TRIPLE THREAT played at the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House on the 8th and 9th June, 2013. Running time 2 and a half hours including one interval

 

OPERAMANIA

OPERAMANIAA delightful souffle of some of opera’s greatest hits this was a lot of fun.

Direct from Russia, the Moscow Novaya Opera brings us OPERAMANIA, currently touring Australia.  Convoluted opera plots are almost completely eliminated and favourite moments from Puccini, Verdi, Bizet and Mozart are blended into a fast-moving, seamless theatrical presentation.

The company consists of ten solo singers (oh what fabulous voices!) plus four dancers from the Russian Imperial Ballet, with a large  orchestra of 44 musicians behind them, making 60 artists all up on stage.

With lightning quick costume changes for each scene, the show zips through two to five minute excerpts from over a dozen composers. The program includes two medleys. The first, comprising Chopin waltzes, Liszt’s’ Liebestraüme’ and Rachmaninov’s’ Prelude in C-sharp minor’. In the second half, a ‘Mozart medley’ includes movements from his Piano Concerto No. 21, Symphony No. 40,’ Eine kleine Nachtmusik’, and the overture to’ The Marriage of Figaro’. Phew!

It is semi staged, with great acting and singing included. And mention must be made of some of the amazing costumes in particular worn by the women – some of the gowns were akin to wonderfully textured soft sculptures.

The huge orchestra (noticeably squashed for space on the stage), under the sparkling direction of maestro Andrey Lebedev, played magnificently and had a terrific time. The featured solo piano playing of Ekaterina Koplakova was glorious. There were no surtitles but there were constantly changing visuals screened as accompaniment – which actually could be quite distracting. And there was a running visual gag throughout with the use of umbrellas.

The show opened strongly with a passionate CARMEN segment. There were many highlights throughout the show .In the first half for example from Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ , Oleg Dolgov gave a superb rendition of ‘Nessun Dorma’ .

In the second half Andrei Fetisov as Mephistopheles from Gounod’s  ‘ Faust’ was mesmerizing , chilling and sinister . But especially Elizaveta Soina in ‘Casta Diva’ from Bellini’s ‘Norma’ stopped the show. A vision in a white nightgown with her hair down, she was full if soaring purity and beauty yet also strong, captivating and in full control.

Elena Terentieva had some wicked fun wearing a silver and black costume as the Queen of the Night from Mozart’s magic Flute , effortlessly tossing off the bravura show off coloratura fireworks. Mention must also be made of the ‘Largo al factotum’ from Rossini’s “Barber of Seville’ as delightfully performed by Anton Vinogradov and Alexander Popov. The septet from Rossini’s “Italian Girl in Algiers’ , ‘Va Sossopra il mio cervello’ that brought the first half to a conclusion revealed great comic timing.

Ballet was also included but was rather disappointing .Because of the small stage space the dancers were quite restricted .The choreography generally was quite traditional .Special mention however must be made of the fabulous Yaroslava Araptanova, who had incredible control in her adage and was marvellous as the spirit of Pavlova in ‘The Dying Swan’ and excellent in the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ pas de deux.

If you were looking for a great way to introduce someone to opera and have terrific fun, this would be a delightful choice.     With a running time of approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes, OPERAMANIA is playing the City Recital Hall at Angel Place on two further occasions, Tuesday 16th April and Wednesday 17th April, 2013

© Lynne Lancaster

OPERAMANIA

Elena Terentieva in Mozart’s THE MAGIC FLUTE

If MTV had a classical cousin that promoted snapshots of great operas, ballets and instrumental music, then this pastiche from the Moscow Novaya Opera would definitely help ratings.

In OPERAMANIA, fourteen dramatic and comic moments from the well-known Italian, French, German and Russian repertoires are staged with awesome dramatic presence and vocal delivery. The singing is focused and passionate. Ensemble interaction and choreography is strongly characterised and interesting, following modern trends in costuming and direction.

But wait, there is more! The large orchestra which digs right into the famous accompaniments also performs five items alone, including medleys of much loved eighteenth century classics and nineteenth century polkas and marches. Even a Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto excerpt is thrown into the mix.

Katerina Kolpakova’s piano work also supports the stars of the Imperial Russian Ballet in the event’s first ballet interludes. Romantic period favourites by Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninov are choreographed. Three Nutcracker excerpts and The ‘Grand Adage’ from The Sleeping Beauty continue the audience’s exposure to classics of Tchaikovsky’s ballet output.

The night is busy, but of such a high standard that the audience is repeatedly delighted and not confused. Outstanding solo singing pleases a bravo –shouting crowd. Yaroslav Abaimov in ‘Ah, lève-toi, soleil’ from Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet will surely continue to bring such praise. Elizaveta Soina’s ‘Casta Diva’ from Bellini’s Norma is captivating. Balletic strength and elegance is well illustrated in the ‘Grand Adage’ from Sleeping Beauty.

This event enjoyed great acoustics in the City Recital Hall, and proceeded admirably despite cramped conditions. Instead of surtitles, a rather beautifully abstract slideshow of continental portraiture and landscape was suspended above the stage. Adjusting or deleting this may have created space, however such screens are becoming popular additions to modern concerts.

This is a thrilling event to tour Australia, and maybe is the next classical music and dance mélange to require a stadium. The extended standing ovation seemed to suggest such potential.

Moscow’s Nevaya Opera’s production of OPERAMANIA is playing the City Recital Hall on two further occasions, Tuesday 16th April and Wednesday 17th April, 2013.

© Paul Nolan

14th April, 2013

Tags: Sydney Stage Reviews- OPERAMANIA, City Recital Hall, Moscow Novaya Opera, Elena Terentieva, Sydney Arts Guide, Paul Nolan

SYDNEY INDEPENDENT OPERA GALA CONCERT

Regina Daniel and Maia Andrews are magic together

From time to time the unacceptable question of opera’s relevance to modern society and even to the Australian musical scene is murmured. Such comment was sung down with incredible force and style during The Independent Opera’s 2013 Gala Concert. Four artists delighted a diverse audience with a variety of arias, duets and ensemble extracts.

The Sydney Independent Opera Orchestra supported the voices well. Its playing of three overtures with stable direction Steven Stanke continued the night’s display of the intense communicative power of operatic music.

Coloratura soprano Regina Daniel, soprano Maia Andrews, tenor Geoff Knight and baritone Randall Stewart illustrated the dramatic focus, interaction and levels of control required to deliver operatic moments from well-known works by Mozart, Verdi, Rossini, Bizet and Johann Strauss.

These skilful subtleties were evident in a sublime and charmingly cheeky ‘La ci darem il mano from Mozart’s Don Giovanni when portrayed by Regina and Randall. Another Mozartean gem was the beautifully blended ‘Soave sia il vento’ from Cosi fan tutte.

Fireworks on many levels ensued when Geoff Knight delivered ‘La vita è inferno’ from Verdi’s La forza del destino. His is a significant voice coupled with an unwavering stage presence. Maia Andrews’ performance of ‘Ruhe sanft mein holdes leben’ from Mozart’s Zaide was floated with controlled beauty of tone. She will make a fine contribution as Zerlina in the Sydney Independent Opera’s Don Giovanni this November.

Rousing versions of favourites from Bizet’s Carmen added to the list of the concert’s crowd pleasers. An encore of ‘Do you hear the People Sing’ from Les Misérables was also a popular way to end the expressive programme.

The four soloists, mostly trained in Australia and now all performing here as well as with the Sydney Independent Opera, pleased the listeners repeatedly. There was much amour, amore and liebe in the room on this night. This was not just for the musicians and vocalists, but for opera itself.

Sydney Independent Opera’s annual Gala Concert was performed at the Independent Theatre, 269 Miller Street, North Sydney on Friday 22nd March. 2013.

© Paul Nolan

25th March, 2013

Tags: Sydney Stage Reviews- SYDNEY INDEPENDENT OPERA GALA CONCERT, Independent Theatre North Sydney, Sydney Arts Guide, Paul Nolan