Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Come and meet Lyric Opera of Melbourne's vibrant and merry Il Signor Bruschino

In the latest new production from the little enterprising team at Lyric Opera of Melbourne, the cobwebs are brushed off Rossini's rarely performed and beautifully structured one-act operatic farce, Il Signor Bruschino, and given a merry and vibrant Versace-like touch.

The cast of Lyric Opera of Melbourne's Il Signor Bruschino
Rossini was just 19 years old when Il Signor Bruschino premiered in Venice in January, 1813. In that year, three further premieres followed, including the two more widely performed works Tancredi and L'italiana in Algeri. Like much of Rossini's prodigious output, not a dull patch surfaces in this sparkling and quick-paced 70-minute work which director Lara Kerestes (mentored by Suzanne Chaundy as part of Lyric's inaugural Opera Directors' Workshop) matches with wittiness and class.

The story's original 18th Century French castle-setting is updated with shimmering ease to somewhere (Rome as the program's synopsis outlines), sometime in the fashion world of the late 20th Century.

Three chandeliers hang over a broad black and white striped catwalk-inspired performance space with the audience seated on three sides. With Lucy Wilkins's gorgeously tailored costume designs, Rossini's musical gem appears unboxed in a fine liquorice assortment fantasy on a runway of energy. Lucy Birkinshaw's lighting design illuminates the colours vividly but I was, however, waiting for some kind of photo-flashing dramatic interjection that never happened.

Chaundy utilises the space generously and her cast of eight pumped up artists are cleverly directed to enliven the comic detail on every note. The English translated libretto is delivered competently and exaggerated facial expressions point the narrative ahead in this privileged up-close encounter.

Rebacca Rashleigh with Jasper Ly
As the son and daughter of two rival fashion houses, the sentimental Florville is in love with the skittish Sofia, but Sofia's father, Gaudenzio, wants her to marry the son of the powerful media mogul, Signor Bruschino. Trickery and perseverance ensue but an operatic happy ending sees the lovebirds joyously united.

Rebecca Rashleigh dazzles as Sofia. Gesturing with manipulative playfulness and seductive cheekiness, Rashleigh's vivacious performance is elevated by her rich and ripely toned soprano and confident, fluid skates about the coloratura.

Shining at the top end and settling comfortably while sporting an attractive and delicate vibrato, warm-voiced tenor Shanul Sharma portrays the love-struck Florville with streams of boyish spirit. Sharma's match with Rashleigh's Sofia looks like a chalk-and-cheese pairing but they show their love liberally and convincingly as they share their duets with touching harmony.

Meeting the eponymous Signor Bruschino, we find the flustered handkerchief-waving Bruce Raggatt, a hoot in the role as he tilts about bringing characterful emphatic and inflective richness to his part and deliciously good pitter-patter adroitness. As Gaudenzio, Matt Thomas is the ultimate showman, the at-ease handsome head of a fashion empire with the charismatic golden-toned and syrupy bass who draws you into his performance effortlessly.

Shanul Sharma, Matt Thomas and Bruce Raggatt
Raphael Wong impresses vocally with resonant and sturdy footing as the cafe owner Filiberto. Smaller roles are neatly cast with Genevieve Dickson as Gaudenzio's swooning secretary Mariana, Bernie Leon as the corrupt Commissioner and Cameron Silby as the drunken party-boy, Bruschino Junior. And notably, when Rossini challenges and enthrals with collective might, the ensemble sing with strikingly balanced care as the voices project in all 360 degrees.

Out of the way but stylishly in place at the far end where a grand piano forms the centrepiece, Artistic Director and conductor Pat Miller marvellously drove the score's nuanced and effervescent melodies on opening night. If anything, the music could benefit from a little more punched out rhythm, but the 14 musicians played was crispness and the comedic timing was impeccable. Jasper Ly deserves special commendation for his mellifluous solo Cor Anglais accompaniment as he confidently steps into the performance.

And even with a small hiccup occurring during a duet when one of the three roll-about mannequins toppled as Mariana spies in the background, the comic element is brought out endearingly in all.

Go and meet these fine singing storytellers in Il Signor Bruschino for yourself. They'll snappily entertain you in one big colourful evening of fun.

Chapel off Chapel
12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Until 12th June

Production photographs:  Kris Washusen

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