Sunday, April 8, 2018

Milking the kookiness but a little more polish wouldn't go astray in Lyric Opera of Melbourne's Les mamelles de Tirésias: Herald Sun Review

Published online at Herald Sun Monday, 9th April 2018 and in print Tuesdday, 10th April.

Kate Macfarlane as Therese
Opera doesn’t get any kookier than Poulenc’s surrealistic escapade, Les mamelles de Tirésias (The Breasts of Tiresias). It’s exactly the kind of rarity that’s right up Lyric Opera’s alley and one that includes lots of innocuous fun with balloons.

Therese (Kate Macfarlane), fed up with domesticity, marvels at the magical loosening of her mammaries (balloons of course), grows a moustache and, as Tiresias, adventures out to conquer a male-dominated world. First, she dresses her Husband (Raphael Wong) in female clothes. Then, he wills himself to have babies of his own — over 40,000 in a single day.

The absurdity has a message — sung commandingly in a prologue by Stephen Marsh as dapper theatre director — to “listen to the lessons of war and make babies like never before”. Based on Apollinaire’s 1917 play, it was a call to repopulate France after WWI. Poulenc’s 1940s score — a one-hour perky mix of cabaret, burlesque and operetta — is a reaction of sorts to WWII.

Adopting Britten’s version for two pianos, Simon Bruckard and Peter Toohey justly proved drag diva Dolly Diamond’s hilarious introductory words as having “some of the best fingering in the business”. Dolly’s a hard act to follow.

From director Cathy Hunt came a mostly bubbly encounter, supposedly reimagined in the ‘greed is good’ 1980s and framed by Robert Smith’s effective set featuring an outlined Keith Haring-like house. Motifs on Lucy Wilkins’ zany costumes from artists like Chagall, Picasso, Klee and Haring, however, do better in deeming time mostly irrelevant.

Ensemble artists Alastair Cooper-Golec, Sabrina Surace and Timothy Daly
What struck more were the balloons — the blue and red — filled with (a poor joke coming) the helium and she-lium in us all and, by story’s end, a colourful mix of balloons that reflect sexual and family diversity.

Sung in English, the cast’s ability to maintain the musical pace, comedy and cabaret appeal gets tested heavily with some scenes lighting up the audience on opening night while others fell flat.

Macfarlane’s fluid acting and sparkling top notes sailed but her Therese needed greater gutsiness. Robust top to bottom, Wong made a fine show of the Husband’s transformation into baby-raising and between acts the pair share a mood-changing highlight as they dance a dream of being back together. The remaining ensemble of seven joined in enthusiastically as various other characters but shone better as a chorus of citizens and as melodic bonneted babes.

Though best not to be taken too seriously, a little more polish wouldn’t go astray.

Les mamelles de Tirésias
Lyric Opera of Melbourne
Chapel off Chapel
Until March 14 2018

Production Photos: courtesy of Lyric Opera of Melbourne

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