Tag Archives: Sydney Independent Opera

MOZART AND SALIERI

Ian Fisher as Salieri and Damian Arnold as Mozart. Photo by Jessica Harper
Ian Fisher as Salieri and Damian Arnold as Mozart. Photo by Jessica Harper

The Independent Opera presented Opera two in their 2014 season at Sydney’s Russian Club. Russian vocal, operatic and orchestral music was highlighted in the program’s first half. In the second half, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s one-act realist opera, MOZART AND SALIERI, gave truth to one of the popular rumours surrounding Mozart’s death. Namely that he was poisoned by his envious contemporary Salieri.

The four soloists singing in the first half were very ably supported by the Sydney Independent Opera orchestra in their excerpts from Russian and Mozartean opera. The use of orchestra to accompany all soloists and also the featured chamber opera is a satisfying part of attending any program performed by this group.

Rachmaninov’s ‘Serenade’ and other orchestral pieces also entertained. Qestra Mulqueeny’s theatrical and vocal presence during an excerpt from Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘The Golden Cockerel’ showed power and thrilling control. Her sweet singing of Alabiev’s ‘The Russian Nightingale’ was an obvious crowd pleaser.

Christopher Nazarian brought us a focused Prince Gremin’s aria from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Eugene Onegin’, adding his admirable bass voice to the afternoon. Karen Fitz-Gibbon’s ‘No Word from Tom’ from Stravinsky’s ‘The Rake’s Progress’ revealed her to be a powerful storyteller and expert creator of character. Rosa Krel’s Joan of Arc’s aria from ‘The maid of Orleans’ by Tchaikovsky was solid drama, vocally strong and well-shaped.

The performance of Rimsky Korsakov’s “Mozart and Salieri” was presented with well- defined characterisations of the two different musicians. The small cast of Damian Arnold (Mozart) and Ian Fisher (Salieri) as the only singing characters never appeared exposed in any solo or dialogue scene.

The pair were well directed to make use of all parts of a suitable set depicting Salieri’s music room and salon. Damian Arnold’s Mozart was sufficiently distracted and with shifting sensitivities. In moments of tenor cantabile, Arnold’s secure vocal delivery contrasted well to Ian Fisher’s fine declamatory singing of Rimsky-Korsakov’s score. Fisher sang and acted his path to crime in an effectively measured way within the one-act structure.

A master stroke in this production came after Salieri poisoned Mozart. The Introitus to Mozart’s Requiem is scored to be heard as an offstage chorus. Instead, this audience saw three of the soloists from earlier in the afternoon, dressed in black, surround Mozart on stage for a powerful moment.

The orchestra was again a good support for the voices and the compact drama. It maintained the forward direction needed to deliver Rimsky-Korsakov’s score. Sections in contrasted styles, playing of modern and traditional shapes, motivic shifts and moments of quoting other composer’s material were well managed across the orchestra.

This interpretation enabled us to witness a Russian realist opera authentically presented within a larger Russian themed performance. Brutal revenge is to be the next realist opera offered by The Independent Opera. In August, the performances of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci should not be missed.

For more about Mozart and Salieri, visit http://sydneyindependentopera.com.au

DON GIOVANNI

Mozart's DON GIOVANNI at the Independent Theatre. Pic Sarah Connor
Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI at the Independent Theatre. Pic Sarah Connor

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