Monday, March 13, 2017

Victorian Opera gives Respighi's The Sleeping Beauty a breathtaking kiss of life: Herald Sun Review

Published online 13th March and in print 14th March 2017

OTTORINO Respighi himself would be mesmerised by how magically glowing his musical fable, The Sleeping Beauty, lives in Victorian Opera’s latest and highly imaginative production audiences of all ages will love.

Originally written for the puppet theatre and sung from the pit, it held the stage in Vittorio Podrecca’s puppet company I Piccoli for over 20 years after its premiere in Rome in 1922. You wonder how the work could have languished.

The King and Queen and Raphael Wong, The Sleeping Beauty
Here, Victorian Opera have teamed with puppet designer and maker Joe Blanck and director Nancy Black in an outstanding collaboration that gives it a breathtaking kiss of life with the singers firmly integrated on stage.

Respighi’s score harbours a banquet of stylistic delights and descriptive signatures that conductor Phoebe Briggs and Orchestra Victoria enliven with geniality and Black sharpens both comically and affectingly on cue.

Black brilliantly enhances the borders between what is acted, sung and characterised. The voices echo poignantly in song with the puppets, alongside which the singers give consoling warmth to their matching character as they wander, watch and wait as a contemporary community embracing the power of storytelling. The story also takes a leap outside its traditional telling with a modern day capitalist, Mister Dollar, willing to buy Sleeping Beauty. On this, think Trump.

Blanck’s puppets are an extraordinary mix of material and enchanting caricature guided by his contingent of seven flexible puppeteers who step right into the action.

There’s a trudging noble Ambassador and his trumpeting Herald, dancing Frogs, the hilarious flailing Jester, the friendly ghostlike Blue Fairy, the excitable and portly King, the graceful Queen, the hunched Old Lady and her interfering feline fur ball, the Cat. There’s the fearsome scene as the Green Fairy arrives in a storm to cast her spell on the infant Princess and another as a gruesome giant spider is wrestled and stabbed to death by the Prince. Not a moment goes by in its 80 minutes that doesn’t captivate the senses. And the singing is unwaveringly assured.

Old Lady, Nadine Dimitrievitch as the Princess and Liane Keegan
Puppeteers Vincent Crowley and Nadine Dimitrievitch act the Prince and Princess with dance-like charm while mighty tenor Carlos E. Bárcenas and the floating soprano of Jacqueline Porter bring their union to the contemporary fore.

Other memorable performances come from Raphael Wong’s hefty-voiced King, Sally Wilson’s grief-stricken Queen, Elizabeth Barrow’s silky and scintillating Blue Fairy, Zoe Drummond’s sparkling Nightingale, Liane Keegan’s luscious-voiced Old Lady, Timothy Newton’s dignified Ambassador and Stephen Marsh’s warm and oaky Woodcutter.

But, plaudits to all involved and to Victorian Opera in another energised production. And when the Prince sings O, magic vision to the sleeping Princess before the kiss, you sense he sings the thoughts his audience has of the entire performance.


Victorian Opera

Playhouse Theatre, Arts Centre until March 18

Rating: four and a half stars

Production photos: Charlie Kinrosss

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