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.
What a fabulous way to start off 2014 with this magnificent revival of Gale Edwards’s version of LA BOHEME, originally seen in 2011.
Lush, lyrical and romantic, passionately performed by cast and orchestra it feels as fresh as if it was a world premiere .Musically the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, under the enthusiastic ,very energetic leadership of Andrea Licata, was superb, giving a dazzling rendition of Puccini’s much loved score .
As big as ‘Ben Hur’ or ‘Les Miserables’ , huge , sprawling ,long and epic, volcanically powerful, dramatic and passionate this is a magnificent version of this rarely seen Verdi opera , part of the Royal Opera House’s celebrations of the Verdi bicentenary and the first time the Royal Opera House has staged it .It was the first of the two operas that Verdi was to write, with a French text, for the Paris Opéra. Composed between ‘La Traviata’ and the first version of ‘Simon Boccanegra’ it was first performed in 1855, and therefore was after his earlier successes with “Rigoletto”, “La Traviata” and “Il Trovatore” ,and yet it points the way to later major works such as “Aida”, “Otello” and “Falstaff”. It demands a huge corps de ballet and two choruses on top of the usual soloists and a big pit orchestra – a marvellous example of the French ‘Grand opera ‘style indeed.
The orchestra is superb and the singing ravishing . Director Stefan Herheim has updated the action from the French occupation of Sicily in the 13th century, and a Sicilian revolt that massacred 3,000 French in 1282, to an opera house in 19th-century Paris.The prologue back- story is condensed into the overture and we see de Montfort terrorise and rape one of the dancers . The introduction of setting of an opera house within an opera house allowed Herheim and the Royal Opera’s music director Antonio Pappano to cram the largest possible chorus on to the Covent Garden stage. One chorus, at main stage level, portrays the Sicilian peasants,in folk costume , while another chorus of French soldiers in wonderful uniforms and socialites in glorious posh evening gowns occupy the loge and balconies of the stage-set opera house.Fürhofer’s sets provide spectacular reflecting cross-sections of auditorium and stage, with intriguing use of mirrors and reflection their geometry ( an opera within an opera) always changing .
The story of the uprising of the Sicilians against their French oppressors is therefore developed to become something more complex and more intricately layered, both a study of the tension between the people and the military and an exploration of how artists are exploited by the society that creates them. André De Jong’s choreography blends easily with it , the dancers seeming to come from the Degas period at times ( very Giselle /La Sylphide of the romantic era ) but there are also dark hints of the evil underside of the occupation etc with the use of dancers in black tutus – a dark ‘Swan Lake’ . The choreography is a great mix of contemporary and the style of the period. Visually there are many arresting images with hints of EA Poe’s ‘The Red Death’ with the use of masks and emphasis on skulls etc and also possibly Beardsley? And the lighting by Andres Poll is starkly dramatic at times with a Caravaggio like effect.
Another major theme of the opera is father/son relationships. The duet in Act3 between our tenor hero Henri,( deftly, excellently sung by Volle) who thinks himself to be a Sicilian of low birth but fiery, patriotic and full of anti-French fervour, and the man that a letter from his dead mother testifies is in fact his missing father – none other than Guy de Montfort, the villain of the piece , the hated commander of the French occupying forces stops the show . This gives the emotional impact that makes Verdi operas so human, especially as sung here by Hymel and Michael Volle as the French occupation chief who insists the young rebel now call him “father” in order to save the woman he loves. Volle’s brooding ‘Mon Fil ’ is superb , at times wistful and delicate , joyous and hopeful , at other times cold and proudly demanding – a highlight of the evening . Hymel , torn yet defiant as Henri is also magnificent .
Helene was terrifically sung by Helene LIanna Haroutounuian.Her black mourning dress in Act1 is superb but what a grisly, bizarre entrance with the head of her murdered brother! Her opening aria (Viens à nous, Dieu tutélaire / “Pray, O mighty God, calm with thy smile both sky and sea”), was splendid and ends with a rallying-cry (Courage!…du courage!) to the Sicilians to rebel against the occupiers .She was also inspirational in Les Jeunes Amies” (The Young Friends), which is the most famous tune from the work and here part of the joyous wedding celebrations .The duet between Helene and Henri revealing their love in Act 4 when facing death is also another highlight.
Erwin Schrott, as the rebel leader and passionate patriot Jean Procida, here shown as a limping ballet master , was magnificent .For starters his Et toi, Palerme / “O thou Palermo, adored land …”. in Act1 is breathtaking and stops the show. Bravo!
A long but thrilling and chilling night at the Royal Opera House. This was filmed at the Royal Opera House London November 4 2013.Running time four and a half hours (approx) including two intervals
Verdi’s Les Vepres Siciliennes runs at selected cinemas for a few dates only
It’s a great shame that there were only two performances of this excellent production of Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ by Sydney Independent Opera.
Sung in English – generally a very good translation – musically and vocally under the energetic , expressive yet controlled direction of Steven Stanke, the show featured marvelous playing by the rather small but excellent orchestra and an interesting use of the delicate harpsichord during the ‘recitatives’.
It is interesting to note that this production was based on the 1777 Prague version. It was a ‘semi staged’ theatre using the heavy proscenium arch and the rolling acoustic panels at the back as the set with swirling cloaks and small handprops, where appropriate, augmented by excellent costumes and lighting.
The sparse staging allows the audience to concentrate on the music, plot and characters. There was hot and steamy lust and passion, and the darkness, cruelty and depravity of the story was also acknowledged. The narrative is a morality story cloaked in heavenly music,- all of the characters are damaged in some way , and Don Giovanni ends up being dragged down to Hell ( ‘The punishment of the libertine’).
Rakish ,debonair Don Giovanni was excellently sung by Randall Stewart in magnificent voice in a most impressive performance .He is presented as a Mafia Don with guns , knives etc and in a very expensive looking suit and waistcoat . His seductive aria /duet ‘Là ci darem la mano’ or here in English ‘There will my arms enfold you’ with Zerlina was lyrical and melting .No wonder she was almost swooning!
We first see Donna Anna (Qestra Mulqueeny ) in a pink shirt making wild passionate love to Don Giovanni and then oddly smiling as her father is killed, –is this a Surrealist Brechtian nightmare? Mulqueeny is then later revealed as an ultra-elegant, almost Valkyrie, with blond upswept hair and stunning black dresses , with a very strong voice, particularly in her showy arias .
As naughty , saucy , downtrodden yet stylishly dressed , cynical Leporello, driven to distraction by his master’s bedhopping hijinks and lack of concern, Paul Smith was excellent .His ‘catalogue aria’ in Act1 that cruelly informs Donna Elvira of the overwhelming number of his master’s conquests was excellent .
Donna Elvira (Salina Bussien ), passionately obsessed and in love with Don Giovanni, is presented as tall, imposing ,pale and in Gothicky black with the initials DG tattooed on her breast as revealed by the slit in her costume. Bussien is a marvellous,very strong actress who gave a terrific performance.
As the Commendatore Iain Fisher gave a tremendous, chilling performance particularly in the terrifying denouement of the second act that sent chills down the spine. Bravo.
Zerlina and Masetto , the young bride and groom whose relationship and wedding day Don Giovanni almost destroys ,were wonderfully played and sung by Maia Andrews and Joshua Salter . Zerlina’s ‘Batti batti or as here in English ‘beat me beat me ‘ stopped the show .
A most enjoyable production that was quite dramatic and seductive. Running time 2hours 45mins (approx) including one interval
DON GIOVANNI, by the Sydney Independent Opera, had two performances – 1 & 3 November 2013- at the Independent Theatre
This was the first time I had attended a broadcast performance of an opera in a cinema. I was not sure what to expect as I am a regular opera-goer and lover of the art form. What I love about opera is that it is an integrated art form which incorporates music, theatre, dance etc.
Happy to say that there was the same mix of people looking forward to an evening that would be enjoyable on many levels as you get at the actual opera.
This Royal Opera production is sumptuous – on a scale that Opera Australia can rarely achieve, not just because of the small size of the Sydney Opera House’s Opera Theatre and orchestra pit, but also the sponsorship required to stage a multi-million dollar production like this one!
As you would expect from the Royal Opera, the singers were fabulous and the production pretty well perfect. Naturally, everyone was waiting for the Nessum Dorma aria, and we were not disappointed. However, the singing, acting, dancing and stage set were all at an incredibly high level.
However, the extra bit that I really enjoyed is the one you do not get with a live performance – the back stage interviews. It was really interesting to hear the director talk about the production, the conductor talk about his approach to interpreting the music, the costume designer talk about what themes she drew on (Mediaeval Chinese in this case), and the choreographer talk about how she based the dances on Tai Chi movements.
The cinematic presentation of these performances is a different experience to that of live opera – but still incredibly moving and engaging. The ‘feel’ of the audience seemed reflected this too.
I would recommend attending one of these cinematic broadcasts of opera if you are:
a) an opera lover and cannot be in London, New York etc. to attend the live performance or want to check out different productions, hear new singers etc; or
b) You are a newcomer to opera and want to test out how you feel about the art form – at cinema prices, you can afford to do a good lot of testing!
The Royal Opera’s production of Andrei Serban’s staging of Puccini’s TURANDOT screened from Covent Garden, London at Verona Cinema Paddington on Tuesday October 1, 2013 with further sessions on Friday October 4 at 11.30am, Saturday October 5 at 11.30am, Sunday October 6 at 12pm abd Wednesday October 9 at 11.30am.
This innovative work, inspired by Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly”, uses a mix of drama, music, puppetry and Chinese and English language to deliver a strong and emotionally poignant evening. The setting of Shanghai in the 1930’s also supported this new interpretation.
The story of Butterfly always enthrals, whether in the well-known opera (which will be performed on the Harbour next year) or in the also well known and loved musical, Miss Saigon. Having said that, the line between opera and musical theatre is a thin one, and I would have described this new work as a chamber opera myself.
The music is a beautiful mix of English and Chinese theatre/opera traditions drawing on Kurt Weill, early 20th century jazz and old and modern Chinese theatre/opera music. There was also the use of what I suspect may be the Chinese equivalent of commedia dell’arte stock characters in the aunty and ‘marriage broker’.
I was not sure about the use of puppetry until the wedding night scene, when it was most incredibly effective in demonstrating the effective dismemberment of Butterfly’s soul.
This is a tightly woven work and draws the audience in intensely. In fact, I found the interval distracting and disruptive and would have preferred it delivered as a one-act production.
The star of the show would have to be Wang Zheng as Cho Cho, with her operatic credentials clearly on display not only in her beautiful singing but also her incredible stage presence, even when being the ‘voice’ of her puppet character in the flashback scenes.
I was also impressed with Du He as the aunty, whose beautiful and mellow voice had a few moments to shine when not in strong comic character. David Whitney as Sharpless was also memorable, playing the role of the lost ex-pat very effectively. Scott Irwin as Pinkerton was very believable. I must confess that I never see this plot in any form without being aware that in many parts of the world this situation is still occurring, which underlines the tragedy for me.
A special mention goes to the puppeteer who played the roles of Cho Cho’s child and the young Cho Cho. His capacity to efface himself, so that you saw and responded only to the puppet character and its story, was phenomenal!
I would recommend this show to all, but do sit at least three rows back so that you can read the surtitles.
The National Theatre of China and PlayKing’s production of the Sydney season of their award winning Chinese-Australian production Cho Cho, is playing six performances at The Concourse Theatre, Chatswood from September 24-28 and is then touring to Melbourne, playing the Arts Centre Melbourne from 2-6 October.
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
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.
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
A 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
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.
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.