Sunday, May 21, 2017

Opera Australia's psychologically commanding and seductive King Roger: Herald Sun Review

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts/opera-australias-king-roger-is-profoundly-compelling-and-mysteriously-beautiful/news-story/302dd5f1574ca37d26e877dd19bb8ae6
Published online at Herald Sun 22nd May and in print 23rd May


IT’S not often an opera comes along that sidesteps sentimental and emotional foci and zeros in on the psychological so seductively and commandingly, but Polish composer Karol Syzmanowski’s explorative and concise work King Roger achieves just that.

If you’re unfamiliar with it you’re not alone but, once seen, it will brand its combination of penetrating music and story of wrestled desire and personal torment well beyond the final curtain.

Michael Honeyman as King Roger, Lorina Gore as Roxana
In Opera Australia’s new production — co-produced with London’s Royal Opera directed by Kasper Holten (revival director Matthew Barclay) — Syzmanowski’s titular figure is revealed in stone as a monumental towering head centred within a lofty coliseum as symbol of the king’s power and subject of public scrutiny. Tensions boil as a people conditioned by draconian religious strictures demand blood when the mysterious Shepherd arrives preaching freedom of Dionysian pleasures causing Roger’s fight between resistance and desire.

Holten extrapolates the text with such striking clarity, underpinning the composer’s own infused sexual identity, and creates a vision so enduring with Steffen Aafing’s sets and costumes and Jon Clark’s joyless lighting, that it’s hard to imagine its original 12th century Sicilian setting giving it the substance Holten does — an austere place costumed in a time alluding to Syzmanowski’s 1920s Northern Europe.

The head revolves for Act 2 to reveal an industrial-like network of stairs. Holten literally takes us into Roger’s mind and we’re churned about in his psychological turmoil of desire, entangled in the sexual urges of near-naked writhing dancers in a homoerotic dream/reality.

Act 3 is more ambiguous. The head is gone, Roger’s wife, Roxana, has joined the Shepherd’s mass of followers and books are burned in revolt. Consumed by the Shepherd’s spell, Roger has a cryptic epiphany in a finale that questions what it is but, potently, how we manage desire within context.

Dominica Matthews, Arthur Espiritu, Gennadi Dubinsky and OA Chorus
Exotic Middle-Eastern threads, impressionist lucidity and tearing expressionist strokes flourish from Syzmanowski’s adventuresome mind in a score of luscious beauty. Orchestra Victoria’s adroitness and conductor Andrea Molino’s resolute understanding of the music on opening night showed despite the weight occasionally bearing on lower vocal reaches.

Steadfast baritone Michael Honeyman’s robustly buttressed performance and solid grasp of Roger’s taunted psyche and situational tug of war was luminous. Liquid-warm tenor Arthur Espiritu coolly captivated as the enigmatic Shepherd. The gentle outstretched reaches between the two, the Shepherd’s suggestive brush of the stone head’s lips and Roger’s beguiled looks all add depth to Holten’s well-conceived details.

Radiant soprano Lorina Gore exuded crystalline elegance as Roger’s overlooked and unfulfilled wife, Roxana. James Egglestone’s genial adviser to Roger, Edrisi, Dominica Matthews’ unbending Deaconess and Gennadi Dubinsky’s lordly Archiereios handsomely satisfied in smaller roles and Opera Australia Chorus rang out superbly with combined solemnity and agitation.

King Roger is as profoundly compelling as it is mysteriously beautiful and it’s exactly the type of work that adds power and piquancy to Opera Australia’s stage.


KING ROGER

Opera Australia
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
Until May 27

Rating: four stars

Production Photos: Jeff Busby

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Opera Australia and John Frost's meticulously recreated and effervescent My Fair Lady opens in Melbourne


Between the uncouth and the upper crust, Eliza Doolittle has much to navigate and stomach in her quest for betterment in Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's sparkling iconic musical, My Fair Lady. It's a journey that's both touchingly portrayed and brought to effervescent life in Opera Australia and John Frost's impressive new show based on the original 1956 Moss Hart directed production. And giving vibrant and sensitive directorial clout from start to finish, as Broadway's first 'I'm a good girl I am' Eliza Doolittle, Dame Julie Andrews has wasted not a stage moment in setting the story alight with her spirited cast, including Christopher Gattelli's effective task-driven choreography that integrates without overpowering.

Ensemble, Ascot Scene Act One, My Fair Lady
Sydney and Brisbane have already enjoyed its spectacularity but when it opened at Melbourne's ornate Regent Theatre on Tuesday night, it was as if a much-hyped world premiere had arrived to give Eliza Doolittle's story her most gracious home, be it an oversized one that distant occupants might need to pick up their own Ascot Racecourse field glasses for.

The meticulous recreation of the original doesn't preclude the vast amounts of creativity that have gone into bringing the work back to the stage and the supervising design team deserve huge credit for the brilliant work done to resurrect set designer Oliver Smith's intricate locales and Cecil Beaton's lavish costumes. From the dingy backstreets of Covent Garden to Henry Higgins' capacious but cosy study, to the prim-penned stiffness of Ascot and the glamorous chandelier-studded embassy ballroom, the Edwardian sets and costumes tantalise and beguile. Scene after scene effortlessly moves along with their copious details and quirkily expressed perspectives all dazzling under Richard Pilbrow's lighting.

Sometimes, recreating a work truthfully has more to say the second time round than it did in its day and My Fair Lady seems to do just that. Six decades on, Eliza Doolittle's audience will be more informed - the swinging 60s followed the premiere with the sexual revolution and the women's movement's fight for sexual equality continuing to resonate in its ongoing struggle to make equality a reality in all aspects of society today.

On the backstreets of Covent Garden, Act One, My Fair Lady
We can look at Henry Higgins with greater distaste for the sour assaults he lashes on Eliza while treating her like a lab-rat in a social experiment to prove he can transform her from a 'guttersnipe' flower girl to a duchess in six months. We can see Eliza dreaming big, abused by class and sexual differences yet nudging through with strength and free will. It makes Eliza's return to Higgins in the final scene feel compromised but by the time the curtain goes down on its foggy ending, Eliza seems to be the one who'll be giving Higgins much-needed training.

In it all, Andrews has bitten in deeply to highlight the emotional connections without resorting to sentimental sugar-coating. In her service is a tuned, character-driven cast led by two exceptionally solid leads.

Through and through, as Eliza, Australian musical star Anna O'Byrne gives an enticingly sophisticated performance as she transforms convincingly from unkempt common flower girl to elegant fair lady. Layers of natural charm accompany O'Byrne's performance and, whenever she sings, she does so following in the great Andrews tradition with a keen sense of expressive outlay and gleaming purity of voice. Whether it be the daintily melodic "Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?" or the hearty ferocity of "Just You Wait and Show Me", O'Byrne's ability to take the text, mould it and dance with it is a delight to watch, especially so as Higgins' frazzled specimen persevering in mastering the elocution of "The Rain in Spain".

English stage and screen actor, Charles Edwards, twinkles as a perfect paradoxical, blindly misogynistic and eccentric Professor Henry Higgins. Diction-clear and authoritatively savvy with sing-speak, Edwards effortlessly captures his audience as his Higgins' depth of intellect and lack of maturity and compassion challenge in keeping oneself from biffing him a beauty for his gross insensitivity. The spark Edwards creates on stage alongside O'Byrne is a cracker and, though it comes late, his Higgins' softening heart coyly peers through.

Embassy Ballroom Scene, Act One, My Fair Lady
Colonel Pickering, Higgins' gentlemanly chum, is superbly styled in the hands of Tony Llewellyn-Jones. Veteran stage legend Reg Livermore brings cartloads of energy to the indecorous Alfred Doolittle with jollity and cheekiness pouring out in pleasingly raw song in "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me To The Church On Time".

Robyn Nevin puts high polish to Mrs Higgins' plum aristocratic airs and no-nonsense sensibility, Deirdre Rubenstein comfortably warms the house as Higgins' housekeeper, Mrs Pearce, and as the love struck Freddy, Mark Vincent's melting warmth and resonance make a big impression with a heartfelt "On the Street Where You Live".

On opening night, dutifully supporting the cast, ample musical richness and vitality wafted from the pit under musical director Guy Simpson as he led a meticulous, primed and luscious-sounding 22-piece orchestra. Michael Waters' sound design added final touches of finesse.

The fusion of artistic and creative elements that make Opera Australia and John Frost's My Fair Lady so special will continue to enamour its audience just as the runaway success of the 1956 Broadway production did. Only, we are hopefully more ready to embrace the equality of the sexes.


MY FAIR LADY
Opera Australia and John Frost
Regent Theatre, Melbourne
Until 29th July


Production Photos: Jeff Busby

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Two cleverly threaded and ardently sung works in Opera Australia's emotionally vivid Cav and Pag: Herald Sun Review

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts/opera-australia-presents-mascagnis-cavalleria-rusticana-and-leoncavallos-pagliacci-in-a-double-bill/news-story/5e804c4d3602de8b0414395064cd724a

Published online at Herald Sun Melbourne on 11th May and in print 12th May.


OFT-paired in a double bill, Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana (1890) and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (1892) are fused tightly as one in Opera Australia’s emotionally vivid and stirring new production to Melbourne by Italian director Damiano Michieletto.

Popularly referred to as Cav and Pag, both works were originally set in Italy’s 19th century south where jealousy, revenge and murder erupt under the heavy air of religious festivity — Cav’s Easter morning in a Sicilian village, Pag’s Feast of the Assumption in Calabria.

Dragana Radakovic, Dominica Matthews, Diego Torre and OA Chorus
In Michieletto’s gritty reality, updated to a late 20th century singular setting, there is no censorship on violence, the characterisation is solid and the details employed that trickle through his worn rural Italian village suggest that tensions are spawning elsewhere about town. Where the price paid for infidelity is high, men are quick to throw a fist, alcohol fuels rage, women are victimised and religion is no innocent bystander.

Paolo Fantin’s spatially diverse sets revolve frequently to carry the action swiftly forward. Cav centres about the village bakery (run by Turrido’s mother, Mama Lucia) and its facing square, then transformed into a village hall and dressing room for Pag. Carla Teti’s costumes are place-perfect and Alessandro Carletti’s lighting adds austerity to a community harbouring deep and dark undertones.

The posters go up for Pagliacci’s upcoming performance in Cav as Pag’s Nedda and Silvio have their first encounter. Then, during the famous and reflective intermezzo that releases some of the tension, Nedda and Silvio meet in amorous rapture. Later, during Pag’s intermezzo, Cav’s Mamma Lucia and Santuzza put the past behind in a reconciliatory embrace.

The intertwining threads work marvellously to consolidate the two works’ similar themes but it is the exquisitely tuned cast that keep the tension alive.

Diego Torre as Canio and the Opera Australia Chorus, Pagliacci
Every new role tenor Diego Torre challenges comes with more fluid acting to accompany his richly lubricated vocals that resonated securely on opening night. Torre took on the rarity of performing two hot-tempered characters — as the stark-real, emotionally coiled and cheating Turiddu in Cav and the cheated on and vengeful Canio in Pag — and nailed the pair compellingly.

With full range strength and superb emotional shading, Dragana Radakovic was riveting as a hysterically fraught Santuzza. There’s years of life, local wisdom and heart in Dominica Matthews’ assuredly sung Mamma Lucia and Anna Princeva is intensely focused as she poignantly conveyed the frustration and dreamer in Nedda with her succulent and shapely soprano.

José Carbó’s solid, incisive and authoritative performance as Cav’s slick Alfio and Pag’s detestable Tonio, Sian Pendry’s seductive and shameless Lola, Samuel Dundas’s handsome and romantic Silvio and John Longmuir’s versatility as Bepe all fuelled the fire alongside an uplifting Opera Australia Chorus of villagers.

Patches of nervous brass aside, Orchestra Victoria worked superbly under conductor Andrea Licata’s sumptuously coaxed reading to include ample climactic vigour.

When the curtain goes up, Cav’s chilling fateful tragedy is immediate. By the time it goes down on Pag, you’ll be completely embroiled.



CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA/I PAGLIACCI by Opera Australia

State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until May 20

Rating: four stars


Production Pictures: Keith Saunders.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

An evening of outstanding bel canto bliss with Victorian Opera's La sonnambula in concert


A near-packed Hamer Hall set the scene for a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini's La sonnambula on Saturday evening that sent shock waves of rapturous applause and a standing ovation. Not only did Bellini's semiseria opera shower its ostentatious and sublime music on its eager-ear local audience, it was presented with ample and compelling dramatic acuity surpassing expectations of what a concert performance gives. For this, from an assembled cast delivering a gloriously sung evening, Artistic Director and conductor Richard Mills deserves congratulations. That, and bringing sensational Australian soprano Jessica Pratt back to Melbourne to crown the performance in diamond quality.

G. Bradman, R. Hislop, J. Pratt, C. Bárcenas and P. Pecchioli 
La sonnambula continues Victorian Opera's commitment to presenting concert performances of gems from the great library of bel canto works that adorn the repertoire - in 2014 it was Bellini's Norma and I Puritani followed in 2015 in which Jessica Pratt wowed as Elvira.

The opera premiered in Milan in March 1831 (Norma followed before the year was out) and tells an amusing tale driven with intense melodrama by librettist Felice Romani. Sung in Italian with English surtitles, the story centres around the village girl Amina who, after her betrothal ceremony to Elvino, is found asleep in the room of the mysterious stranger, Count Rodolfo, who is staying at the village inn. Of course, the plot thickens - Elvino is outraged, breaks off the engagement and gives his heart back to Lisa, the proprietress of the inn to whom he was formerly betrothed. Amina is bereft but when Rodolfo realises that the villagers' story of a ghost appearing each night is, in fact Amina, a somnambulist, the misunderstanding is cleaned up and a happy ending ensues. Accompanied with such highly elaborate music, this somewhat frivolous story powers a sweet message to never jump to conclusions without adequate proof - or have a very good excuse why you've been found in an admirer's bed when you're engaged to another. How Amina hadn't realised she's a sleepwalker does tend to stretch belief.

It began with a discernible nervous start, taking a little time for the chorus to settle smack on the orchestral line and balance out the layers, but a sense of confidence took over. Mills firmly planted the seeds to support a sumptuous and responsive sounding 50-plus member Orchestra Victoria. That beauty was carried through to a subtly dappled orchestral introduction, the horns and woodwind especially deserving compliments, to Act 2's "Qui la selva è più folta ed ombrosa" and a splendorous and distinctive chorus sang in its wake.

Jessica Pratt as Amina and Carlos Bárcenas as Elvino
When Pratt took to the stage wearing a black bodiced gown of evening blue and long-draped smokey shawl, then catapulted her recitative and cavatina, "Care compagne - Come per me sereno", to extraordinary heights, a palpable change took hold that seemed to guarantee the magnificent night it was to become. Assured, relaxed and commanding a sense of effortless freedom, Pratt embodied the stupendous beauty of voice that places her as a leader in her art and gives the 21st century a new bel canto star. Every smoothly shaped phrase came with an emotively expressed and engaged magnetism that aided in deflecting attention away from her and onto the first joyous, then innocent, wrongly accused and aching-hearted Amina.

Pratt's consummate professionalism shone through via her rapport with her colleagues and commitment to her understated acting while exuding soft and natural elegance befitting her presence as both a star performer and role interpreter. As Act 1 headed towards a colossal finale in which Elvino rejects Amina, Pratt's prowess with the most fragile pianissimo and ability to sustain length of note was a moving experience. From there, Pratt embarked on a blazing display of coloratura fireworks big enough to stun the city. Then, returning in a long black fitted gown in Act 2, Pratt maintained the perfection and natural warmth all the way to the jubilant finale.

Italian bass Paolo Pecchioli was the other standout as Amina's admirer, Count Rodolfo. Suave, rich and cavernous-voiced, Pecchioli's articulate line and dashing flexibility brought many rewarding moments that included a piquantly crafted duet with Pratt as Rodolfo's conscience gets the better of him when alone with the vulnerable sleepwalking Amina.

Searing young tenor Carlos E. Bàrcenas dug deep into his character and projected with large Italianate warmth as the first besotted, then suspicious and incensed Elvino. Bàrcenas continues to pack exciting dynamism and expressivity in the voice with a beautifully controlled vibrato and smooth register shifts. A marginal loss of flesh in the top head voice was heard but it didn't detract from what was a highly commendable performance in which he paired comfortably with Pratt. That pairing was at its finest in Elvino and Amina's pledge of love in Act 1 before the plot's sharp turn.

 Greta Bradman, Roxane Hislop, Jessica Pratt
It was a welcome sight to see Australian soprano Greta Bradman back in Melbourne. As the shady, unprincipled innkeeper Lisa, Bradman's chocolatey-rich soprano and gorgeous use of vibrato added impact to the performance. In Bradman's Act 1 opening, sudden leaps in range came with exaggerated power but as she progressed, the voice became increasingly pliant to reach its most lush in Act 2's "Lasciami: aver compresoassai dovresti", coming with attractive glint and fluttering coloratura.

The ensemble was reinforced solidly by mezzo-soprano Roxane Hislop as Teresa, Amina's affectionate mother. Velvety-dark and sumptuous of voice, Hislop's experience cut through with ease in her portrayal of dignity and staunchness and unflinching attention to detail. As Alessio, Lisa's hapless admirer, young artist Timothy Newton brought robust bass support and held strength in ensemble work. In the smaller role as the notary, Tomas Dalton didn't go unnoticed for his refined tenor display.

Victorian Opera's annual concert opera presentations have become a highlight of Melbourne's opera scene. After La sonnambula was over, I was shaking with excitement, my pulse certainly racing. What might next year bring? I'm going to take a stab in the dark and say another Bellini, the explosive romantic tragedy, I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Fingers crossed.


La Sonnambula
Victorian Opera
Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
5th May

Production Photos: Charlie Kinross 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Opera Australia's dazzling and dramatic new Carmen opens in Melbourne: Herald Sun Review

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts/opera-australias-carmen-creates-dramatic-effect/news-story/ae9da2e645b858891785484cb178a282

Published online at Herald Sun Melbourne 5th May and in print 9th May 2017.

In Opera Australia’s new production of Carmen, esteemed director John Bell seems acutely aware of both enticing newcomers to opera as well as giving regulars justification to see Georges Bizet’s popular work yet again. And see it you should. Bell draws out and magnifies the contrasts and tensions of the story marvellously and bends them to their limits with dazzling and dramatic effect.

Rinat Shaham as Carmen and the Opera Australia Chorus
The perennial buzz of sexual attraction and ugliness of sexual violence with the curse of jealousy at the core, in Bell’s depiction, makes a powerful and confronting lesson — none more so than a final scene that is disturbingly graphic and brings you to thoughts of today’s news of domestic violence.

Under the creative team of Michael Scott-Mitchell (set), Teresa Negroponte (costumes) and Trent Suidgeest (lighting), a cooling breath of Broadway flashes over Bizet’s Seville. Here, it’s a Cuban-inspired retro-contemporary, dilapidated and seedy world contrasting with costumed fluorescent colour and military camouflage, assisted by Kelley Abbey’s energetic choreography for skilful juvenile street dancers and cavorting couples.

You have to stretch your imagination to accommodate librettist’s Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy’s Seville of 1820 but the passions of extremes are perfectly preserved, in no small part due to a superbly sung opening night, conductor Brian Castles-Onion expert handling of the score’s pulse and Orchestra Victoria on top form.

Two international leads gifted their credentials in truckloads. In complete control of her performance as Carmen, mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham seduced with the grit and intensity of the persona she has perfected in over 40 productions worldwide. Shaham effortlessly oozes with sexual strength and exposes Carmen’s cracks of vulnerability in her flirtatious road for freedom with a voice of endless richness and a devastating, dark lower range full of adamancy and soul.

Coming with a hugely resonant, noble and fierce tenor, Dymtro Popov’s masterfully calibrated performance as the unhinged Don José sets up the tragedy compellingly alongside Shaham’s determined Carmen as he mirrors the mind in vocal and dramatic conviction.

Dmytro Popov as Don José and Rinat Shaham as Carmen
The satin-suited bullfighter Escamillo — the kind of guy who steals a kiss then gives it to another — came with distinctive flair from a robust-voiced Shane Lowrencev who gladly did a sterling job of the famous Toreador Song.

Soprano Stacey Alleaume wasn’t far away from a standing ovation after her innocent but brave-hearted Micaëla pulled at the heartstrings with her sweet, angelic beauty of voice.

Smaller roles were handled with aplomb with Carmen’s shallow, beauty-conscious companions Frasquita (Jane Ede) and Mercédès (Sian Pendry) especially shining in style with Adrian Tamburini’s brutish Zuniga leading his forces with solidly grounded bass. And the Opera Australia chorus, with 12 clarion scallywags, fired up magnificently as a chorus of suspect citizens for a splendid bullfighters’ welcome.

At the heart of it all, nothing feels lost in Bizet’s enduring work. Coming with strong vocal, musical and dramatic commitment, the gains made in Opera Australia’s new production should last as long as the blaze of colour in its makeup.


CARMEN
Opera Australia
State Theatre, Arts Centre until May 26
Rating: four stars

Production Photos: Jeff Busby

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A yesteryear romp in operetta where the champagne's a tad flat - Opera Australia's Two Weddings, One Bride

First I was thrilled - a new work from Opera Australia. Then, uncertain - it's a pastiche of operetta hits stitched onto the foundations of a libretto derived from the work of a now generally unfamiliar 19th century French composer, Charles Lecocq. Then again, from the sharp-looking promotional material, it looked like it could be lots of fun. So how did it go?

Cast of Opera Australia's Two Weddings, One Bride
There's a great company of artists and creatives that make Opera Australia the premium brand it is but I was left scratching my head after Saturday night's opening of Two Weddings, One Bride. Frankly, I was disappointed. It's not the Opera Australia brand I'm used to and, for me, it elicited more questions than laughs.

Of course, when the Joan Sutherland Theatre becomes unavailable for Opera Australia's large-scale fare due to its closure for renovations, it creates a conundrum of sorts. The rest of the 2017 Sydney season is pared back to a couple of concert operas with Moffat Oxenbould's iconic Madama Butterfly getting stage time at the Capitol Theatre as the only fully staged opera. Julie Andrews' My Fair Lady gets a rerun at the Capitol too, so it leaves very little to whet the opera appetite in Australia's largest city. Pinchgut Opera come to the rescue with their now customary two productions.

Was a lighthearted new pastiche the answer to filling the gap? If it wasn't for its lack of punchy humour, self conscious slapstick style and undernourished musical support, perhaps it could be. But Australians take pride in their humour so, for laughs, where is the investment in something that reflects this in opera?  No easy task but why spend money on a 'new' work that has the trademarks of European yesteryear?

Charles Lecocq's Giroflé-Girofla, an opéra bouffe in three acts that premiered in 1874, and the curious work creator Robert Andrew Greene based his Two Weddings, One Bride on, enjoyed popularity in its day, including an appearance in Sydney in 1875 so it seems. A fair enough start.

The gist of librettists Albert Vanloo and Eugene Leterrier's story remains intact but it's updated from its 13th century setting in Spain to one day in the mid 20th century French protectorate in Morocco during WWII. As pawns in their parents' plans to save themselves and their state, identical twin sisters Giroflé and Girofla (played by the same actor and differentiated by their pink and blue costumes) are coerced into marriages of convenience. Giroflé's wedding goes accordingly to plan but Girofla is kidnapped and, so as to appease the other impatient groom, Giroflé is forced to marry a second time. The truth eventually comes out in a day of mayhem in Morocco that's rescued by an ocker Aussie digger who saves things getting further out of hand, one that attempts to guide the work into local laps.

John Bolton-Wood, Julie Lea Goodwin and Geraldine Turner
A rear-facaded single set featuring a rattan lounge setting opens out to include exterior depth by Owen Phillips' dutifully created exotic Moorish style. Tim Chappel's slick costumes brightly delineate characters and John Rayment's warm and romantic lighting adds lushness to the picture. But the overall effect is conservative, one that limits director Dean Bryant to mostly spreading the action linearly on a shallow stage and around a few furnishings - some that tricked the opening night cast.

Opera Australia created the work "to give some of the most delightful songs of operetta an outing", as the program notes state. Offenbach, Lehár, Kálmán and Stolz, with a sprinkling of Lecocq's music itself, make up the score but it's Strauss' signature that provides the most froth, in particular music from his bubbly Die Fledermaus. Greene was at piano, giving jaunty-tuned precision and violinist Yuhki Mayne added expert technique bound in warmth at his side. But most of the tunes would be familiar in their full orchestral beauty so the spare backing made you wonder where the rest of the band were and what kind of outing was intended because it's not such a cheap one at that.

There's ample fun on stage amongst the cast but it doesn't always convert to hoped for laughs. Opening night suffered with a few hiccups in comic timing and lines like "I'm too old to do the can-can....I can't can't" started to wear thin. One the whole, quality voices carry the drama forward but you can bet your bottom dollar that if Opera Australia revived it's own celebrated Die Flerdermaus by director Lindy Hume, you'd be getting the bells and whistles of operetta and the company's full attention to delivering the best.

Andrew Jones, Julie Lea Goodwin, Nicolas Jones
The cast, however, stepped up to the task with enthusiasm. Sparkling soprano Julie Lea Goodwin was a breath of fresh air and took the spotlight charmingly as she alternated between Giroflé and Girofla, making Lehár's "Vilja Leid" from Die lustige Witwe a sweet and expressive rendition as she reluctantly goes ahead with the second wedding. Nicholas Jones' suave good looks and drop-dead gorgeous honey-toned tenor befits the man of class his Marasquin is as Giroflé's chosen. Laying on thick the impassioned romantic tune of "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Das Land des Lächelns, Jones sailed high on the night's best performances.

Not to be confused with the other Jones, the rich and roaring chesty baritone of Andrew Jones' General Modigliani comes with unbridled pistol-pride and macho heft in his demands to take his bride. David Lewis slipped comfortably between multiple roles in fine voice and overcooked accents as Pedro the spirited Spanish chef, Francois the pesky French cousin, the "stone the flaming crows" Aussie colonel and the pious celebrant.

Long associated Opera Australia favourite John Bolton-Wood fit the comic glove as the agitated twins' father, Philippe. Playing his bumptious and disgruntled wife Aurore, musical theatre personality Geraldine Turner, in her company debut, took to the geared-up shenanigans but the voice faltered in puffing up "Orlofsky's Aria" from Die Fledermaus in her opening song and struggled thereon. The ensemble singing, too, will no doubt coalesce as the season progresses.

Near end, it wasn't the most cleverly dropped line when "We hope you liked our show" rang out from the stage. It's hard telling the generous host and hostess the champagne's a tad flat. As the long 50-plus show season of Two Weddings, One Bride lies ahead for Opera Australia in Sydney, the company makes its usual move to Melbourne for the autumn season which gets underway in a few days. Now that you shouldn't miss.


Two Weddings, One Bride
Playhouse Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Until 22nd October

Production Photos: Prudence Upton




Thursday, April 27, 2017

Emotionworks Cut Opera's vivid, genre-crossed Tosca bound in Soul, Blues and R&B in Melbourne: Herald Sun Review

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts/review-emotionworks-presents-tosca-in-a-courtyard-of-the-historic-pentridge-prison/news-story/76b5d6e31219cb52865eb7f93872d6fd

Published in Herald Sun in print 26th April and online 27th April


YOU would be hard pressed hearing someone leaving Puccini’s Tosca saying how much fun it was but Emotionworks Cut Opera do it differently. Like trying to prove that oil mixes with water, creator and director Julie Edwardson deconstructs opera’s lengthier form and adds her own genre-crossing music.

Puccini’s work doesn’t survive in its grand tragic way but, bound in this Blues, Soul and R & B mix, it’s a Tosca full of vivid life and high libidos too.

Lachie Purcell, Justine Anderson, Jason Wasley and Lauren Jaksetic 
Presented in a courtyard of the historic Pentridge Prison, this former palace of sinners shackles the story’s tragedy effortlessly, transferring the action from Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo in 1800, where Puccini set the final act, to within these high bluestone walls in contemporary times.

The political prisoner Angelotti (Richard Woods) escapes from Pentridge, the painter Cavaradossi (Jason Wasley) harbours him and Tosca (Justine Anderson), Cavaradossi’s opera-singing lover, is caught in the crossfire when the Chief of Police, Scarpia (Michael Lampard), schemingly traps her in an attempt to catch his escapee. Everyone falls victim to the hand of another.

Props are sparse but Edwardson cleverly weaves in two enigmatic dancers (Lauren Jaksetic and Lachie Purcell) as the ghosts of Tosca and Cavaradossi who relive the lovers’ last day and gently shadow them.

It is a beautiful effect and makes a striking black-and-white contrast to five unsmiling female prison guards with no shortage of dominatrix flair in the service of Scarpia. Consistently belting out most of the best vocals as these Soul Sirens, Antoinette D’Andrea, Natasha Jacoel-Kaminski, Joanna Collyvas, Georgia Chalfon and Terese Scalisi are indispensable to the show’s success.

More than 30 song snippets nestle in the show’s 90 minutes, most fitting the bill creatively, some feeling squeezed in. The focus isn’t entirely on Tosca but my quibble is that it is unnecessary having the tight four-member band step in and sing their tunes too.

Justine Anderson and Michael Lampard
Anderson’s Tosca turns on the heat with unrestrained hot-bloodedness and sexual confidence, portraying both strength and vulnerability. Despite some top-note struggles, Anderson’s dark-hued tone carries attractively, singing the opera’s most famous aria, l lived for art with starry depth and pathos. Imagine that, followed by Tina Arena’s Chains sung movingly by the Soul Sirens as Scarpia undoes his trousers. Not easy?

Or Cavaradossi’s aria, And the stars shone, sung with poignancy and grit by a muscular-voiced and impassioned, fine acting Wasley followed by Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine in a gorgeous rendition by Antoinette D’Andrea as he dropped to the ground.

But it’s Lampard’s slimy, limping and crotch-centric Scarpia that steals the show, deftly portraying man as beast in well-articulated hair-raising resonance and dramatic fullness.

Angelotti’s vocal chords are apparently ripped out in Block A Division, which explains Woods’ raspy operatic opening, but he sinks comfortably back to where his voice resides — to ACDC’s Jailbreak and back on guitar.

There are the songs of Christine Aguillera and Adele, Stevie Wonder and James Brown among many in a musical seesaw ride with Puccini that Edwardson makes work.

Come open minded and come to enjoy. And add a must-do tour of Pentridge for extra effect.


Pentridge Prison, 1 Champ Street, Coburg, until May 7

Rating: three stars