Opera Australia has pulled out all the stops in this thrilling revival of the rather controversial version of Puccini’s TOSCA as directed by John Bell. The production was first seen in 2013.
Musically and vocally, this production is fabulous. The Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra under the baton of maestro Andrea Battistoni play superbly. At a couple of points one could hear hints of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Turandot and La Boheme,– sometimes starkly dramatic, at other times lyrically passionate. Curly haired, dynamic Battistoni conducted energetically yet also with precise attention to the swirling, passionate melodies.
This unsettling, confronting revival sees the narrative transposed to Rome in the 1940’s, with the Nazi occupation in full and deadly swing. Death, guns and violence are everywhere. Continue reading TOSCA @ The Joan Sutherland→
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.
SYDNEY REVIEWS OF Screen + Stage + Performing Arts + Literary Arts + Visual Arts + Cinema + Theatre +