Tag Archives: Lynne Lancaster

NT LIVE: THE AUDIENCE (ENCORE SCREENINGS July 2015)

TheAudience.224

“If you want to know how it is that the monarchy in this country has survived as long as it has – don’t look to its monarchs. Look to its prime ministers.” THE AUDIENCE

They don’t get much better than this. Along with most of my colleagues I am searching for superlatives to describe THE AUDIENCE, filmed at the Gielgud Theatre in London. Continue reading NT LIVE: THE AUDIENCE (ENCORE SCREENINGS July 2015)

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

la-et-joss-whedon

‘The course of true love never did run smooth’.

Sorry folks but I apparently have to go against the tide of what seems to be general opinion and admit I was a little disappointed with this new version by Joss Whedon (‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, ‘Cabin in the Woods’,’ Toy Story ‘)of ‘Much Ado About Nothing ‘.The film was shot in and around Joss Whedon’s own home in Santa Monica, California, while he was still working on the blockbuster superhero film ‘The Avengers.’  I guess I have been spoilt by the glorious Kenneth Branagh / Emma Thompson version.

Somewhat cut and abridged, the plot is basically as follows : Leonato , ( lithe Fred Astaire look alike Clark Gregg) the governor of Messina , is visited by his friend Don Pedro(Reed Diamond) who is returning home from a campaign against his rebellious brother Don John ( handsome Sean Maher) . Included in Don Pedro’s entourage are two of his officers, Benedick( Alexis Denisof  (‘Buffy’, ‘Angel’, ‘Dollhouse’),) and Claudio ( Franz Kanz (‘Cabin in the Woods, ‘Dollhouse’)) . While staying in Leonato’s huge palace Claudio unexpectedly falls for Leonato’s daughter Hero ( Jillian Morgese ) whilst Benedick renews his verbal sparring with Beatrice ( Amy Acker of ‘Angel’ and, ‘Dollhouse) the governor’s niece. All seems wonderful when Don Pedro acts as intermediary for Claudio and Heros’ engagement.

In the days before the wedding Don Pedro with the help of Claudio , Leonato and Hero attempts for a lighthearted prank to act as Cupid to Beatrice and Benedick.  But this is one of the darker  Shakespearean ‘ Comedies ‘ that dangerously skirts possible tragedy: Don John can be seen as a precursor to Iago in Othello’ perhaps as he surreptitiously plots to destroy the marriage of Claudio and Hero before it has even begun. Will he succeed ? Will Claudio and Leonato discover the truth? Hero’s impugned virtue and faked death are rightly treated like tragedies .Almost everyone dons a mask to test someone else’s loyalty, unfortunately an impulse that can often lead to disaster. Or does it in this case ? ( Here for example at the masked ball, disguised as a Sheik,Benedick discovers some home truths about himself).

 The position of women in society at the time is highlighted by poor Heros’ situation when she is wrongly accused and Beatrice’s great speech railing against being a woman. Shot in black and white it is updated to now with computers, security cameras and mobile phones, but has a very 1950’s feel.The men are mostly in very swish Prada style suits .There are some wonderful use of opening atmospheric close ups of trees etc and very effective use is made of reflections and mirrors ( eg when Hero is first prepared for her wedding).I liked the irony when the men were shown to their quarters and the bedrooms were full of stuffed soft toys.

However I found Alexis Denisof as Benedick somewhat stilted,determinedly square-jawed and rather tense . Amy Acker’s Beatrice is a bit freer but still restrained .The scenes where Beatrice and Benedick overhear their friends supposedly discussing their secret affection for each other –  Beatrice hiding in a kitchen alcove , Benedick full of acrobatic tumbles and leaps past the glass windows ) are much fun as is the way a couple of Benedick’s monologues are done as if he is going for a run , or talking to the wedding decorations.  Benedick’s hammy overdone posing when Beatrice angrily comes to say ‘against my will I am sent to bid you come to dinner’ is a riot.

Fran Kranz as Claudio is excellent , his scenes terrifically handled especially for example where he accuses Hero wrongly and calls off the wedding and also the scenes where he realises she was falsely slandered .

The low ‘comic’ scenes see Nathan Fillion (‘Buffy’, ‘Firefly’, ‘Serenity’ ).and Tom Lenk as the bumbling supposedly hardboiled film noir detectives Dogberry and Verges with ‘cool’ sunglasses who lock themselves out of the police car.

For me this was an uneven film which didn’t quite know what it was trying to be. I found it rather artificial.While yes the main characters were well played it just didn’t quite ‘gel’ .

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING opens today .Rated M, Running time : 108 minutes

HOT SHOE SHUFFLE

HSS Tap bros on tap truck jazz hands-002

They don’t make them like this anymore. Musical theatre fans will adore this. It’s hard to believe that this is HOT SHOE SHUFFLE’s 21st anniversary revival!  It’s one of those ‘old fashioned’ feel –good ‘let’s put on a show’ musicals that showcase the jaw-dropping talents of a superb cast.

The show when it opened originally led to a resurgence of interest and development in tap dancing (and led to Dein Perry’s ‘Tap Dogs’). It is very demanding and the cast have to be able to do the ‘triple threat’ as well as specialise in scintillating tap. The different sorts of tap styles are shown – from the elegant, top hat and tails of Fred Astaire   contrasting with the freer, more showbiz style of Ray Bolger.

It’s a rather silly musical comedy plot about The Tap Brothers – all seven of them (yes seven! Spring, Slap, Buck, Wing, Tip, Tap and Slide). And yes there are ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’ jokes, their long lost sister April (or is she?) and a dead father’s will with a huge fortune (Is he? And is the fortune real? All will be revealed).

The show dazzles and delights and is sheer joy. The dancing is phenomenal. The infectious rhythms have you dancing in your seat. It’s bold, bright and colourful (in the first half the brothers look at time like extra Wiggles).

In the second half especially there are some great lighting effects.  There are also some film and theatre in-jokes ( ‘Star Wars ‘,’ ‘Dirty Harry’ ,’ Aliens ‘ and ‘King Kong’) for example in the corny but witty script)and are we meant to pick up allusions to ‘Singing in the Rain’ and Matthew Bourne’s ‘Swan Lake’?

The band, hidden for roughly two thirds of the show is incredible. When we do get to see them, they are displayed in a marvelous 1930’s art deco/Glen Miller style set featuring a large staircase.

All seven of the incredible Tap Bros are marvelous, each of them having short solos, but special mention must be made of Spring ((Bobby Fox) who brings the house down and literally stops the show by causing a standing ovation in his jaw dropping solo in the Act 1 ‘Tap Jam’ . And his ‘Song and Dance Man’ solo in Act 2 is pretty brilliant too.

As their klutzy, two left feet (yeah sure) red haired  ‘sister’  April we have the stunning Jaz Flowers. She is marvelous and leads her ‘brothers’ in a cheeky ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ in Act 1 and is a sultry glamorous, dreamy torch singer in Act 2 (‘How Long Has This Been Going On’ ?).

Theatre legend and the man who started the whole thing ,David Atkins , is delightful in his roles as Aloysius Shyster/Max King/Dexter Tap .He has a fabulous time throughout and is terrific in his rather poignant solo in the second Act ( ‘ Mood Indigo’ ).

The last part of the show is the ‘HOT SHOE SHUFFLE’ itself, the act the brothers are reunited for which pulls out all the glitzy stops to magnificent effect. So , yes, this includes a glamorous, very difficult tapping up and down lit staircases and a glow- in- the -dark cane tossing routine.

The delighted ‘Tap God’ rumbled his approval and the audience for opening night gave it a huge  standing ovation at the end, the like of which I haven’t seen in years.

HOT SHOE SHUFFLE, with a running time of 2 hours and 40 minutes including one interval, is playing at the Lyric Theatre until Sunday August 4, 2013.

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

 

 

 

 

NT Live: THE AUDIENCE

THE AUDIENCE-001
Richard McCabe (Harold Wilson), Helen Mirren (Queen Elizabeth) and Edward Fox (Winston Churchill). Pic Dave Benett

“If you want to know how it is that the monarchy in this country has survived as long as it has – don’t look to its monarchs. Look to its prime ministers.” THE AUDIENCE

They don’t get much better than this. Along with most of my colleagues I am searching for superlatives to describe THE AUDIENCE, filmed at the Gielgud Theatre in London.

Continue reading NT Live: THE AUDIENCE

BOLSHOI’S ROMEO AND JULIET

Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Damir Yusupov
Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Damir Yusupov

With its lavish costumes and superb dancing I see this production as an interesting but a little disappointing introduction to a balletic Romeo and Juliet. Based on Shakespeare’s play this is a revival of the 1978 version Grigorovich created for the Paris Opera Ballet.

This is a rather sparse, somewhat stylized and simplified version of the well known story. Virsaladze’s sets – huge stylized representations of drapery, and a raised platform – remain the same throughout, with the addition of various candelabra, gauze screens… This gives a quite bare and odd feeling to the marketplace scenes as an example, but there are also some very effective shots of Juliet through the texture of the gauze screens.

The wonderful , vibrant Prokofiev score ( excellently played by the Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia under the musical direction of  Andrei Ankhanov ) drives the work which is striving to be more stripped back and  ‘abstract ‘ , to allow for focus on the main theme of Romeo and Juliet’s love . This production purports to try to get to the emotion of the main story…the lady next to me was in tears…not quite the case for me.

Technically the dancing is great. There were some very difficult lifts in the pas de deux.  However whilst the  dancing was extraordinary and especially showcased the men,  it was also repetitive and Grigorovich recycled sections from his ‘Spartacus ‘ ( especially for Tybalt ) and  lots of it was clearly structured to be precisely on the beat of the music.

For some of the big crowd scenes the dancing was shot from above to give an idea of the patterns of the choreography,– a great idea but the line of the microphones were glaringly obvious.

Our Juliet, played by Anna Nikulina, is exquisite. She is dewily radiant and beautiful in the opening scenes when Romeo first sees her and we see here grow to a strong minded, determined woman. (featuring plenty of costume changes ) . There is lots of use of bourree on pointe.

Nikulina has an incredibly long ‘line’ and fabulous control in the adage. She has a very expressive back and there is a fantastic backbend at the start of the ballroom pas de deux that says volumes.

Our passionate Romeo, Alexander Vochkov, is a great dancer however there was no discernible character for him once he has met Juliet.

The couple’s athletic, angular wedding night pas de deux is glorious .Both Romeo and Juliet have sequences using the ‘Ulanova run’, billowing material behind them.

Also rather one note is our Tybalt (Mikhail Lobukhin) who comes across as a wild eyed, menacing and   melodramatic villain. His portrayal can be forgiven because he is such a splendid dancer. Lobukhin has incredible panther-like leaps and corkscrew turns with showy short solos in both the marketplace and ballroom scenes.

In this production Tybalt deliberately stabs Mercutio in the back.  His (double sworded) death with swirling toreador like red cape was dramatic but felt a little contrived.

There is no Benvolio in this production per se but Andrei Bolotin as Mercutio was outstanding. (The musicians with brilliantly fashioned carnival masks ‘played’ his friends and chorus). Teasing , full of life , popular , Bolotin shows off his amazing soft ‘ballon ‘and fleet footwork. The fight scene with Tybalt were tightly choreographed and carried out and the death scene was powerful.

Some more variations from the Bard’s original work sees Juliet’s nurse not attending the wedding, and later we do not find  Juliet  ‘dead in her bed’ but rather her death takes place off stage. As well, this version has a very athletic ‘reunion ‘ pas de deux where the lovers are briefly reunited before their deaths.

The ballet attempts to convey and personify concepts (anger, love, pride and so on), but there are awkward shifts between the abstract  and the concrete, and although excellently acted the dancers don’t seem like real people with whom we can identify in their tumultuous overwhelming passions.  I have to say, I much prefer the Macmillan version.

The Bolshoi Ballet Grigorovich Romeo and Juliet screened at selected arthouse cinemas on the weekend of June 29 & 30.

 

A SONG TO SING O

Christopher Hamilton as Sir Joseph Porter in Melvyn Morrow's classic
Christopher Hamilton as Sir Joseph Porter in Melvyn Morrow’s classic

Kicking off the ‘Cabaret in the Day’ season at Mosman Art Gallery was a one off performance of the magnificent A SONG TO SING O , written and directed by Melvyn Morrow and here featuring the splendid talents of Savoy legend Christopher Hamilton playing  George Grossmith, accompanied on piano by Jayne Hamilton.

Grossmith was a leading Savoyard comic baritone, ( best known for his ‘patter’ roles ), comedian and writer, composer, actor, and singer. His performing career spanned more than four decades. As a writer and composer, he created 18 comic operas, nearly 100 musical sketches, some 600 songs and piano pieces, three books and both serious and comic pieces for newspapers and magazines. and among others created the roles of Sir Joseph Porter( HMS Pinafore ) , Major General Stanley  (The Pirates of Penzance), KoKo ( The Mikado) , and Jack Point ( Yeomen of the Guard) .

The audience is invited in as Mr Peabody, a visiting American journalist, is there to interview Grossmith, and this leads to performances from all his great roles. Grossmith is in his dressing room just before a show .The set includes a wallpapered Chinoiserie like screen and an elegant tea set , plus a hatstand , huge wicker traveling basket and a large vase all containing various props used in the show (for example Bunthorne’s lily). There are witty asides about working in the Savoy Company and with Gilbert and Sullivan, as well as Oscar Wilde amongst others. As well there are some terrific performances of a couple of Grossmith’s own songs– for example the poignant ‘Muddle Headed Porter’ and the rollicking ‘See Me Dance the Polka’ . Grossmith’s own wit also shone in his enchanting performance of ‘French Verbs’ – wickedly delightful.

Hamilton as Grossmith was glorious, warm, with a wicked twinkling eye where appropriate, a mobile expressive face and a terrific voice.  The performance was enthralling and he channeled Grossmith with great gusto. Various selections from the much loved Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire are performed starting off with ‘Trial by Jury’ and ‘My Name is John Wellington Wells’ from ‘The Sorcerer’. The tongue twisting, rapid fire ‘patter’ songs are tremendously performed .His Sir Joseph Porter KCB ( ‘ HMS Pinafore ‘ ) was excellent – refined, slightly effete . As Major General Stanley he was breathlessly fabulous. The fiendishly difficult Lord Chancellor’s ‘Nightmare Song’ from ‘Iolanthe’ was thrillingly performed .With swirling cape and a hunchback he became the horrid , testy King Gama  ( ‘Princess Ida’ ) who ‘can’t  think why’ he isn’t liked. Another famous Grossmith role was Koko from ‘The Mikado’ – his plaintive, compelling performance of ‘Tit Willow’ would have any hard hearted Katisha weeping. As Bunthorne (from ‘Patience’) with a green hat and cravat he is transformed into a languid S shape , narcissistically admiring a lily.

‘A Song to Sing O’ from ‘Yeomen of the Guard’ brought the interview to a close with a magnificent duet with a surprise appearance .

Encore and bravo. Or, as the Pirate King would say to Major-General Stanley, ‘Again’!

Melvyn Morrow’s A SONG TO SING O, running time an hour and ten minutes, played for one night only at the Mosman Gallery on June 30.

The next Cabaret In The Day shows are OUR GLAD on July 14, BROADWAY BARD on July 28 and finally Romance!ROMANCE! on September 1, 2013. All shows start at 3pm. The Mosman Art Gallery is located on the corner of Art Gallery Way and Myahgah Road, Mosman. Phone 99784178

 

 

 

OTHELLO

OTHELLO

O most noble, brave and valiant Othello!

Explosively powerful this is a striking, unusual production prominently featuring water. Wonderful Sport by Jove under the inspired direction of Matt Edgerton bring us a gripping performance with a magnificent cast and show their usual excellent style of fluid scene transitions, a respect for the text , very energetic performances and a driving pace . Edgerton has the luxury of two strong, fantastic leads  in his Othello and Iago . It is a ‘timeless  ‘production with a hugely masculine sparse military feel , the military people such as Othello , Iago and Cassio wearing dark blue shirts a, black trousers with a stripe and dashing white ‘ dress ‘jackets with medals where appropriate.

The set itself is dominated by sandbags (used to control the flow of water) and blends various elements of military camp, dockside and bathhouse. Desdemona’s bedroom is prettified by the addition of four candles (which Othello symbolically blows out during his ‘it is the cause’ monologue). The water – from a tap opened by Damien Ryan’s Iago and gradually covering the marvellous tiled mosaic floor to become a shallow pool – is a major theme of this version and works on multi – layers of metaphor, meaning and sensation. The water is there for almost the entire play and the actors (and front rows of the audience) can get quite wet (and Desdemona’s long gowns almost ruined…). There is wonderful use of the lighting by Mat Cox and David Stalley who use the water reflection/dapples to great effect at various points.

In this production our attention is somewhat shifted from the usual perception of the play being about race hate and more focused on how Iago becomes the driving force and instigator of the tragedy with his evil machinations affecting the other more gullible characters. But Othello being regarded as an outsider and Desdemona’s daring everything to marry him are clearly shown, as are the power politics with the clever use of microphones.

Our Iago Damien Ryan is exceptional, a superb performance. (I would love to see him cast as Richard  111) .The seemingly ‘honest ‘ ( note how that word is repeatedly used about him ) Iago is in fact the opposite – a deadly schemer. As in Shakespeare’s Richard 111, his monologues are shown sympathetically and he mesmerizes and completely draws in the audience. The show opens with Iago being water tortured to reveal why he did what he did but to no avail. The big question is WHY Iago does hate ‘The Moor’ so much and Shakespeare never really gives us an answer although it is implied he is jealous and ambitious.

Ivan Donato as Othello is also brilliant, an excellent performance. We see the range of his emotions and his many ‘faces’ from a man in his prime in top form, a galvanising, proud, commanding general and new husband, to his hidden weaknesses – the epilepsy and the ‘green eyed monster’ of jealousy , succumbing to Iago’s  fiendish machinations.

Sweet, innocent, wronged Desdemona is tremendously played by Isaro Kayitesi .While seeming to be a lovely , fragile tropical flower she has steely determination and a mind of her own.

There is some doubling/tripling of some of the smaller roles and the Duke becomes a stunning Phryne Fisher like exotic Duchess in red. Poor young very handsome Cassio was well  played by Scott Sheridan. Emilia , Iago’s unsuspecting wife and Desdemona’s supportive companion ,was strongly played by  Julia Ohannessian who gave a terrific performance .

Oh! The fuss over that handkerchief that Desdemona loses! In this version Iago’s devilish machinations (unwittingly put in train by Emilia) are clearly presented . The handkerchief becomes a repeated visual motif used at times throughout the play .

A thrilling production. Go see.

OTHELLO is playing the Reginald Theatre, the Seymour Centre until Saturday 29 June, 2013. Running time is 3 hours and 15 minutes without interval.

 

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.

 

NEDERLANDS DANS THEATER 2

nederlands-dans-theater-2

We have been privileged to see a program of four very strong contrasting works as performed by the excellent young dancers of NDT 2 ( The ‘second company’ so to speak of Nederlands Dans Theater).

First up was the magnificent ‘Studio Two’, choreographed by Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot. Breathtaking and mesmerizing with jaw –dropping performances it was performed to Arvo Part’s haunting , hypnotic “Tabula Rasa’ .

Traditional classical ballet is taken and twisted. It has very atmospheric lighting and is dominated by a huge tilted bare ‘over the wall’ white set. It is abstract but includes extraordinary explosive short solos and some amazing very demanding lifts in the pas de deux. One of the men is in white underpants, another, topless, is mysterious and ominous in long black pants. At one point there is a use of the deep Graham plie and I also noticed in one section a favouring of a wide fourth position. There is also an amazing section using the dancers’ reflections and their interaction with the reflection – the dancers seem like amoebas or floating globules.

The second work , ‘Dreamplay’ as choreographed by John Inger was far darker and ominous. Was it in fact a dream ? Are we meant to pick up references to Strindberg’s play ? To Stravinsky’s driving ‘Rite of Spring’? Inger brings us a powerful , disturbing work .It is cyclical , beginning and ending when a man in a red turban sees a woman in a posh fur coat .  There are repeated awkward phrases of movement , stomping circular movements  in sharp spotlit circles of light and whirling jumps.

The backdrop is a wonderful , tilted ,textured wall that is shifted and becomes a raised platform at one point. The four men are dressed in grey kilts with red lining, the women in stunning short lace dresses with a geometric feature on the back. As in the controversial original Nijinksy version it is about the chosen outsider and harsh relationships between the sexes .There are also possibly allusions to Nijinska’s ‘ Les Noces’ . There is a powerful yet tender pas de deux with angular arm movements. At one point the man is manipulated like a puppet .This was contrasted with large ensemble blocks of movement.

The strangest , least satisfactory work for me was ‘Sara’ , choreographed by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar. The dancers wore skin coloured unitards making them look like nude shop mannequins. Again, it was about an outsider vs the group – one of the dancers was always separate and every so often one of the writhing , wriggling ensemble would attempt to break out with no success . Isolation and everyday movements were included .Mostly the group was a threatening, sculptural mass with odd ‘dead’ eyes .( Did they wear special contact lenses for this ?) Overly fancy camera work was used to hide the somewhat disjointed, fragmented choreography.

To complete the program we saw ‘Maybe Two’, choreographed by Alexander  Ekman , which was about love and relationships and included a magnificent string quartet . Speech was included particularly in the opening section which had a line of brides and grooms in what turned out to be a string of full standing cardboard cut outs. The choreography included frenzied ensemble work, rolls and jumps. Another section, with two large rolled white panels as backdrop, included a ritualised , formalised representation of a couple making love , how that lead to a baby and analysing how that changed their lives. There was possibly an allusion to Matthew Bourne’s ‘Dorian  Grey’ at one point with the ‘gay’ ( ? ) couple ultra chic in white tuxedos and black boutonnieres.

Doll like robotic repeated movements are used .There is also a very ‘hot’ and athletic pas de deux on the tilted bed that turns into a confrontational threesome . The ending has the quartet (playing their instruments pizzicato so they sound like ukuleles) and the dancers line up in a row. Fade to blackout.

A most exciting, challenging program of four very different challenging works that showcases the breadth and depth of this company’s wonderful dancers.

Running time 2 hours 15 (approx) including one interval

This was at Dendy Opera Quays and Dendy Newtown and other selected cinemas various dates between 1st -6th  June 2013

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

 

AUSTRALIAN DANCE THEATRE’S G

Pic Chris Herzfeld
Pic Chris Herzfeld

Hotly anticipated and at the start of a national tour, this very short visit by Australian Dance Theatre from Adelaide with ‘G’ would have to be one of Sydney‘s dance calendar highlights for 2013.

This is Stewart’s second ‘deconstruction’ of a major classical ballet piece – the first was his terrific ‘Birdbrain’ based on ‘Swan Lake’. While based on the same work, it is about as different from the traditional ‘Giselle’ (a la the magnificent Paris Opera Ballet’s version seen here in January for example) that you can get. It is a driving, relentless full throttle contemporary deconstruction of  ‘Giselle ‘ with amazing dancing. Technically it superb, performed with extraordinary energy ,speed, commitment and control . In Stewart’s choreography , while using classical technique as a base, there are elements of tai chi, fencing and breakdancing ( among other things ) included .Stewart demands that the dancers be incredibly athletic, almost boneless and prepared to throw themselves around the stage in explosive yet soft jumps and rolls. There is an incredible intensity and energy throughout.

Various snippets of the now ‘traditional ‘ Corralli/Perrott/Petipa choreography are referred to (eg Myrthe’s bouree , the Act1 pas de deux ), twisted and reworked. It all begins with a beautifully balletic turned out walk that, repeated and repeated, becomes almost conveyer-belt like . There are some sharp explosive small solos , contrasted with full ensemble work at some points. At one stage there is an angular writhing sculptural mass. Sometimes there are unexpected straight arms in low arabesque or angular arms , twitches and rolls and almost Bournonville like fast ,fleet footwork. There was a splendid moment when Samantha Hines ( I think ) became for a moment the idea of a Romantic fragile wraith like a leaf on a tree yet also dangerous and deadly. At various points all the  cast become Giselle , or Albrecht , or Hilarion or the vampire like Willis rather than one person specifically only playing one particular character.A sinuous,lyrical yet robotic topless pas de deux at a different point of the show must also be mentioned.

The dominant colour of this work is green (of the forest ?. Simply of the LED screen? )There is no real set as such apart from the large LED screen at the back shining with pixels that for most of the work has words or letters running across it , telling the story and analysing the characters of Giselle and looking at the position of women in society at the time. Costumes range from tracksuits to Gothicky like short semi-transparent tutus over leotards or a motley mix of these.With a nod to the original Adam score at the start and end of the show,Luke Smiles ‘ soundtrack beeps, hums ,throbs and crashes relentlessly .

Powerful ,hypnotic stuff this overwhelming astonishing work left the audience exhausted and breathless with excitement .  The running time was one hour straight through.

Australian Dance Theatre’s G played the Sydney Theatre between the 16th and 18th May and then tours nationally.