Bernice Zandona as Catherine, Damian Arnold as Hugo, and Laura King as Rosette

The talents of the Sydney Independent Opera begin 2014 by luring us into the world of opera buffa, in particular an engaging excursion into fine voiced French humour. This is in great contrast to the dramatic and full-scale operatic works the company has offered in the recent past. However their trademarks of fine orchestration, neat playing and enthusiastic singing from rising local stars are once again present.

Even though laws now don’t restrict opera companies in Sydney other than the government supported group to perform one act trifles, a little mid-19th century French satire and farce in contrast to other arts events and world news in general is a welcome diversion.

Dr Steven Stanke and performers re-create well a format similar to any night at Jacques Offenbach’s Bouffes-Parisien theatre in the 2me arrondissement. Guest artists Jermaine Chau, Taryn Srhoj with accompanist Brad Gilchrist from local group Blush Opera provided an opening racy pastiche, “Portrait of a Lady”, dealing with the crises of Marie Antoinette and Madame Veuve Clicquot. This is a substantial and effective curtain-raiser to Offenbach’s operetta. It would work as a free standing cabaret piece on its own.

Members of the ‘house’ orchestra beautifully collaborate with guest accompanist and vocalists to highlight the competition and melodrama between the aristocrats fighting for the right to be painted by an artist too busy to have both party girls sit.

Both singers show themselves not to be lacking in the acting department as they burst their way through the situation and even out of their original costuming. Their vocal blend between voice types is elegant and well-balanced. The mix of classic arias and duets with cabaret and modern music is a master stroke, as the protagonists suffer the ageing process, potential social humiliation and even pregnancy.

Highlights of this musical tapestry are the flower duet by Delibes, a feisty “Habanera” from Madame Veuve, a vocal adaptation of “Elgie” by Jules Massenet with seamless cello from Medhat Boulos, a mash up of a Judy Garland hit with another pop tune and a French cabaret classic to finish.

LOVE BY LANTERNLIGHT unfolds as a good example of the treasure trove of fine music within Offenbach’s modified opera structure. The presentation of this work is historically and musicologically of interest alone. Challenging vocal writing for solo, duet and ensemble exist and flamboyant musical filigree needs to be effortlessly produced. The cast and orchestra succeed here.

The busy commentary of money-hungry characters widows Rosette and Catherine pursuing the farmer Hugo is effusively delivered by Laura King and Bernice Zandona. Wide-eyed and exaggerated reaction from the pair dominates the stage with perhaps the most memorable acting. Some humorous, satirical and competitive moments from these two and unrequited lovers Hugo and Denise could be even further drawn out for us-especially in the English dialogue.

Tenor Damian Arnold as Hugo and Jessica Harper as Denise move through the story with less visual comic drama but sing with true and penetrating voices which both suit their roles. They add new tone colours and subtle tension to Offenbach’s bouffe. The quartet are delicious when they combine at the piece’s climax. This operetta, with a very French humour from a very different era, will thrill for the vocal delights alone.

LOVE BY LANTERNLIGHT was well costumed and staged with realistic detail. It concluded the night of fine buffa opera well. As always, the stars of Sydney Independent Opera show they are developing towards a bright performing future.

The Sydney Independent Opera’s first production for the year , LOVE BY LANTERNLIGHT, was performed for one night only at the Sydney Independent Theatre, 269 Miller Street, North Sydney on Friday 21st March.

For more about the Sydney Independent Opera Company  visit  the Company’s website,-