Friday, December 4, 2015

A blissfull union of comedy and music in Pinchgut Opera's L'Amant Jaloux

In 1778, a sparkling comedic opera received its premiere in France at Versailles. André Grétry's L’Amant Jaloux (The Jealous Lover) enthralled for near on 50 subsequent years but it was not until Thursday night, some 237 years later, that it tickled an audience in theatrical form Down Under.

Alexandra Oomens, Jessica Aszodi and Celeste Lazarenko
Sydney's Pinchgut Opera have a knack for resurrecting the neglected, showing no interest in the sweets of popular repertoire - the less performed or the more obscure baroque and early classical work, the more intriguing they seem to become. It's a point of difference from any other opera company in the country and it offers unique marketability. With it, the now reliable quality and vitality of Pinchgut Opera's productions bring enormous appeal.  L’Amant Jaloux is no different.

The three-act opera is a petite music box of glittering arias and ensembles full of vivid colour, fascinating depth and a delightful freshness that melts away any preconceptions that only the big names of the musical firmament possessed genius and originality.

Both at the harpsichord and conducting, Erin Helyard's authority over Ghétry's music allowed it to leap with energetic beauty. Helyard conducts as if every note emanates from his fingertips and he stands amongst the finest conductors who contribute to the pleasure of 'watching' music.

On opening night, the 27 musicians of The Orchestra of the Antipodes transferred his energy with exquisite shape and precision, as well as providing affecting support for six sensational, well-cast soloists who brought harmonising strength in voice and humour.

Jessica Aszodi as Jacinte and David Greco as Lopez
Baritone David Greco entertains as the wealthy and smug merchant, Lopez, with a voice of broad smokey appeal that billows with pomposity. At just 20 years old, Léonore, Lopez's widowed daughter (who he wants to prevent from remarrying), is fervently performed by Celeste Lazarenko. With unattractive traces of spoilt girlishness as she stomps about her room, Lazarenko charms with expressive acting, a secure, crystalline soprano and pulsating coloratura. Don Alonze is her jealous lover to whom Ed Lyon mustered the immaturity of a child and the passion of bullfighter while thrusting forth his adrenalin-charged, legato-rich and warm tenor.

Don Alonze's sister and Léonore's friend Isabelle is daintily portrayed by the sweet soprano-voiced Alexandra Oomens. Isabelle takes refuge in the Lopez home after fleeing from her guardian with the aid of the French soldier Florival who Andrew Goodwin endears with bumbling boyishness accompanied by a gorgeously radiant tenor. And running about while running the household and just about the entire opera with acute bubbliness as the maid Jacinte, soprano Jessica Aszodi impresses across a vocal range as hearty as it is lucent.

Léonore's patience with Don Alonze's jealousy is put to the test as is his awareness of having to curtail it. Everyone hopes for something but only in a maelstrom is resolution achieved. Contentment isn't handed over on silver platter and change doesn't come easy.

Director Chas Rader-Shieber guides the story with clarity, eliciting exaggerated gestures and pantomime-like expression from his cast in a marvellous period piece presented with vibrantly coloured, quirkily proportioned attire by costume designer Christie Milton.

Set designer David Fleischer shapes the stage area with an obliquely set, high-panelled wall punctured with concealed doorways and cupboards which provide ample hidey-holes for quick escapes - often not quick enough. After a marginally trepidatious start to Act I's parlour setting, the dramatic and comedic flow settles into gear, reaching its best form in Act II as the action shifts into comedic crossfire in Léonore's bedroom.

Every musical moment soars and each soloist found every skerrick of character portrayal with ease when soaked in the French-sung music. But the recitative-empty English raw word, delivered with an array of accents, sometimes felt disconnected. It's a small quibble which, despite the production's enamouring charm, also highlighted how successful L'Amant Jaloux could be if presented with an updated, contemporary or abstract shot.

With two stunning entr'actes cleverly blended with the scene changes, featuring Stephen Lalor on mandolin in the Hummel's Mandolin Concerto in G major and Melissa Farrow on baroque flute in Grétry's own Flute Concerto in C major, the musical richness and comic delights on stage united as blissfully as the happy ending brings.

Production photographs: Prudence Upton

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