Review: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Opera Australia mounts Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg trading comedy for grandeur 

By Leeor Adar 

One can rarely prepare for the grandiosity of a Richard Wagner opera; it takes the gargantuan ego of Wagner and elongates into a brilliance so exhausting that one is both awed and thankful by the time the curtains close. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is no exception here, and instead of gods and monsters, Wagner takes a club to the club, so to speak. Old establishment meets the radical ego of a young man, and ultimately the radicalised eventually succumbs to the powers of the masters.

The story unfolds in Nuremberg, an intensely patriotic front of the Germans, and follows the competition amongst its musical poets for the hand in marriage of a young and well-connected maiden. The tale is simple enough, however Die Meistersinger reflects the innards of Wagner at differing stages of his own life. At first, Wagner is Walther Von Stolzing, rebelling against the gates of the establishment to be seen and heard. Like Walther, Wagner despised the conventions of opera in his youth, but by the time Wagner was composing the opera he was Hans Sachs, the wiser and far more desirable hero for the tale whose heroism is deeply entrenched in his love of art and Germany.

It is easy to see in the final act of Die Meistersinger how the Third Reich was so enamoured with the composer and his work. Where Gioachino Rossini’s lead in Guillaume Tell (recently performed by Victorian Opera) is bolstered by community and the fight against larger forces, our ultimate hero, Sachs, in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger strongly desires to maintain the masters, even when he questions their methods.

To bring us this extravagant opera Australian Opera partners with the Royal Opera House Convent Garden and the National Centre for Performing Arts, Beijing. It is mammoth in length and mammoth in the scale of its staging. Much like the Ring Cycle, Die Meistersinger contains larger than life characters and spaces. Set designer, Mia Stensgaard, created the crowning jewel of Die Meistersinger with a set design so stunningly elaborate and intricate it looks as though the characters inhabit the insides of an organ – a very fitting world for the Mastersingers.

I was thrilled to learn that Kasper Holten would be Directing Die Meistersinger, as his ground-breaking approach to his previous work had the potential to be fantastically imagined in Wagner’s world. I had the pleasure of seeing Holten’s direction of Karol Szymanowski’s King Roger in 2017, and can see how his style weaves through the old-world costumes of designer, Anja Vang Kragh. It is also pleasing to see composer Pietari Inkinen return after an astonishingly successful Ring Cycle in 2016 to conduct this production.

As for the performers, Natalie Aroyan makes for a strong Eva despite the constraints the role provides to a voice as rich as hers. Stefan Vinke as Walther is not so exciting in his Meatloaf moonlighting as a ’70s dad getup. Unfortunately, Vinke’s vocals struggled to bring the requisite intensity to the role, however by the second act, he was in a stronger stride. Die Meistersinger’s real hero, Sachs, is performed by baritone Michael Kupfer-Radecky with an intensity and composure that surely sent many hearts fluttering. Kupfer-Radecky had the opportunity to previously take on the role of Sachs in La Scala in 2017, so it is Australia’s great fortune to have him reprise the role for Opera Australia.

There is very little comedy to be had in Wagner’s famed comedy. Most of the “humour” is reserved for the humiliation of what is ultimately an abysmally treated Sixtus Beckmesser, a Jewish caricature that reflects only the surface of Wagner’s equally grandiose anti-Semitism. However, Warwick Fyfe certainly electrifies the role, making Beckmesser a fabulous (and yes, funny) villain despite what our historical gaze will affix to the character.

In the scheme of Wagner’s work, Die Meistersinger is not particularly as palatable as the Ring Cycle, but if this is your first foray into Wagner’s world, Opera Australia’s production makes for an excellent entrance.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is being performed at Arts Centre Melbourne 13 -22 November. Tickets can be purchased online.

Photograph: Jeff Busby

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Review: La Vie Broheme

Quirky cabaret celebrates bromance and musical theatre

By Narelle Wood

Josh Gavin and Dom Hennequin take to the stage and bring a range of musical numbers to life. The duo belt out songs from Dear Evan Hanson, Smash, Dream Girls, Frozen and Kinky Boots just to name a few.

The songs are loosely connected through stories of their bromance shaped by a range of musical theatre experiences aided by Mark Taylor’s direction and David Youings’ musical direction. The adoration the two performers have for each other is evident through their well-meaning banter and willingness to ad-lib throughout the show. The story moves from shared auditions, to moments performing in shows, to a missing father joke that perhaps because of the realism of the other stories felt more than a little uncomfortable. It did however provide a transition into a standout performance of I’m not my father’s son, which, along with the deliberately over performed You’re going to love me, were exceptional vocal performances.

Given the short run of this performance (only two shows) the thought put into lighting cues, set and the use of stage was really very good. My view of Gavin and Hennequin as well as the occasional appearance of Emma Russell was often impeded by the heads of those seated in front, especially when the action dropped below head height. This meant that many in the audience were struggling to see some of the fabulous interactions happening on the couch.

The show was sweet and provided a very indulgent foray into some musical theatre classics and some lesser known hits. While I and the musical theatre aficionados in the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy the performance, there were a few in-jokes and audience participation requests that my friend and a few other audience members commented went over their heads. In saying that, it’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon, and hear some well performed show tunes.

La Vie Broheme is being performed at MC Showroom 11 and 18 November. Tickets can be purchased online.

Review: The Rug

A satirical dissection of the angry white man

By Samuel Barson

An angry white man has a tantrum about how difficult it is being a white man. No, this is not parliamentary question time, this is Ben Grant’s electropera The Rug.

With a running time of just 45 minutes, The Rug is a feverish and hysterical satire on the so-called ‘plight’ of the modern white man.

Ben Grant, a white male himself, does a respectful job with the commentary he makes on his own demographic. He is self-aware and has clearly done much research on Australia’s current situation, as well as its history of racial prejudice. It took some time to get used to his performance style, but once comfortable with what he was doing, it was a solid and clever solo performance.

Herbz’s production design and Paul Lim’s lighting design were exuberant, unpredictable and strangely glamorous. The dramatic design complimented the over-dramatic white man who was whining and prancing around the stage.

Rah Creation’s set design was kindly simple, allowing the attention to be on Grant’s performance, while still serving his choreography when necessary.

The Rug is certainly not your typical piece of theatre, but rather a greatly refreshing one. It was exciting to see regularly visited themes like privilege tackled in such an irregular and entertaining way. A must see for lovers of the absurd.

The Rug is being performed at La Mama Courthouse 31 October – 11 November. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office on 03 9347 6142.

Photograph: Pier Carthew

 

The War of the Worlds Anniversary Broadcast

Sci-fi classic entertains through the ages 

By Narelle Wood

The most infamous Halloween prank takes the stage as part re-creation of the original radio play, part ’70s rock opera and part exploration of behind the scenes.

There are multiple stories to tell here. The first is The War of the Worlds originally by H.G. Wells which sees Martians invade earth and obliterate every human in sight. The second, and perhaps more famous story is that of the 1938 Halloween performance of the radio adaptation which was directed by Orson Welles and resulted in widespread panic as listeners reportedly believed that Martians were in fact attacking America. Fast forward 40 years and Jeff Wayne launches his musical adaptation of The War of the Worlds, which has gone on to sell millions of copies worldwide.

In this iteration Rob Lloyd and David Innes of Innes Lloyd comedy duo bounce between snippets of the radio play, interesting facts, quotes from Wells and Welles’ only meeting and musical interludes from Wayne’s interpretation arranged for this performance by Caleb Garfinkel. In the process they dispel a few myths, clarifying what exactly ‘wide spread panic’ entailed. But the intrigue is only heightened by Innes Lloyd’s ability to recreate the eerie atmosphere of the 1938 radio broadcast.

You don’t have to dig very far to discover the background facts that are littered throughout the show, but there were many oohs and ahs elicited from the large crowd.  What I found most fascinating though was how much the combination of widespread panic and essentially fake news are both still very relevant today; this was perhaps highlighted by the way in which Innes Lloyd moved between and entwined all the different stories. The movement between some of the segments is a little clunky and sometimes it was a little hard to remember who was who with so many character changes. However, this doesn’t distract from the clear passion that Innes Lloyd bring to these stories.

It would be a shame for The War of the Worlds Anniversary Broadcast not to be an annual event, as there is just so much to like about the original stories and this new retelling.

The War of the Worlds Anniversary Braodcast was performed 29 October at the Butterfly Club. See here for information about Innes Lloyd. 

Photograph: supplied

Review: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

Diabolically funny

By Kim Edwards

2014 Tony Award Winner for Best Musical, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder is – pleasingly – both a love letter to traditional musical comedy, and a satirical assassination of much that the genre holds dear. Evoking operetta and music hall delights in its lively and sometimes lovely score by Steven Lutvak, Robert L. Freedman’s book and lyrics are then cheerfully ruthless and viciously hilarious, and this Melbourne season presented by the ever-admirable Production Company brings down full justice on all counts.

As this modern musical carves out its place in theatre history, the titular gentleman Montague Navarro (Chris Ryan) is also seeking fame and fortune by doing gleeful violence upon a formidable lineage. Upon discovering he is ninth in succession to the Earldom of the D’Ysquith family, Monty decides to bump off a few relatives standing between him and his ambition, and the musical follows his comic successes and downfalls as he targets eight unsuspecting D’Ysquith heirs. Ryan brings great charm, an appealing voice, and some sleek comic timing to the role, forming a sound counterpoint to the manic hilarity and exuberant character work of Mitchell Butel – who plays ALL eight of the potential victims. I particularly enjoyed Butel’s surprising sincerity and beautiful vocals as the noble Lord Asquith, though the opening night audience made real favourites of his affected Asquith Jr, camp Henry, and irrepressible Lady Hyacinth.

Alinta Chidzey and Genevieve Kingsford were both dazzling as Monty’s lover Sibella and fiancée Phoebe respectively – their joint performances made “I’ve Decided to Marry You” and “That Horrible Woman” the show’s musical highlights for me, only rivalled by the wonderful ensemble in “A Warning to the Audience” and “Why Are All the D’Ysquiths Dying”. The superb harmony and orchestral work (how I love having onstage musicians) is under the taut musical direction of Kellie Dickerson, and I adored how often Dana Jolly’s inventive choreography was actually the source of the comedy (the ice-skating scene is genius). Theatre royalty Nancye Hayes makes a satisfying appearance as Miss Shingle, and just wait for Johanna Allen’s simply stunning turn as Lady Eugenia in Act 2 – I could have watched her all night.

Nonetheless Roger Hodgman’s witty direction, Christina Smith’s quaint Victorian cardboard theatre set, Trent Whitmore’s marvelous wigs, and Isaac Lummis’ divine costuming are the ultimate showstoppers of A Gentleman’s Guide – especially the latter two with Butel’s extraordinary fast-changes between D’Ysquiths, and the former when impeccably-timed projections and special effects delivered some of the biggest belly laughs of the night.

Admittedly, I felt the show’s satire falls rather short for a modern audience at times (while acknowledging historical setting and style homage, it is disappointing key laughs in a 2014 musical should still be hung on old scaffolds of gender and race without more self-critique), but this is a concern with the show itself rather than this impressive production. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder barrels along at a cutthroat pace, features a highly talented lineup of The Production Company’s usual suspects, has designs and effects to die for, and is often just criminally funny. The  verdict? – it would be hard not to fall prey to its merrily murderous charms.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder is playing at Arts Centre Melbourne 27 October – 18 November. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183.

Photograph: supplied

Review: Tinder Tales

New Australian musical impresses and woos 

By Samuel Barson

“Dick is dick” in Tinder Tales is the equivalent of Hamlet’s “to be or not to be”. It is equally as memorable, but perhaps slightly raunchier and a little more gratifying than Shakespeare’s work (in this circumstance at least). This line represents modern romance in all its paradoxical nature – symbolising the love lives of today’s youth as so much simpler than before, yet horrifyingly more complex.

Tinder Tales shows audiences this paradox through the eyes of Abby (played beautifully by Eadie Testro-Girasole), as she navigates the use of Tinder, the modern dating app we have all come to know so well. She is after the perfect match. Who she finds soon enough, in Evan (played ever so charismatically by Tom New). But not soon after Abby and Evan’s first date we (and they) realise that they are perhaps not so perfect for each other after all. Abby quickly finds herself struggling with her own self-worth, as well as holding on to the idea of ‘the perfect match’ she has worked so tirelessly to find.

The entire cast present the highs, lows, laughs and tears of modern romance with gorgeous energy and humour. Anna Wilshire and Callum Warrender were particularly entertaining, both bringing a unique stage presence that made it hard to keep your eyes off them, even when they weren’t centre stage.

The music was sharp and succinct, with clever and relatable lyrics (props to writer Mattie Mcleod and composer and musical director Thomas Bradford). Perhaps so much so that scenes were at times disappointing when the cast weren’t singing and dancing. Rachael McLean’s design was homely and familiar, which worked terrifically well considering how familiar the characters inhabiting the space were themselves.

Tinder Tales is an impressive new Australian musical, with a myriad of characters and situations you will undoubtedly recognise, regardless of your dating app use or relationship status.

Tinder Tales is being performed 24 – 28 October at Chapel Off Chapel. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 8290 7000.

Photograph: supplied

Review: Re-Member Me

A mammoth excavation of Hamlet’s legacy 

By Owen James

Lip-sync performer Dickie Beau has taken perhaps the most iconic play ever written (Hamlet) and broken down its legacy into a beautiful historical tapestry that acts as both an inquisition into tradition and memory, and a celebration of art and artists.

Dickie Beau alongside his collaborator and director Jan-willem van den Bosch have created a world that is inquisitive and daring, framed by two core questions prominently displayed in the programme: “why is this play so iconic? And why is it done over and over again?” Instead of simply accepting the great Hamlet’s legacy as given, Beau takes us on a journey narrated by some of the most famous artistic minds in history (including Sir Ian McKellen, Sir John Gielgud and Suzanne Bertish), to discover why Hamlet is so deeply steeped in tradition and honour.

Hours upon hours have gone into preparing this meticulously crafted sequence of interweaving voices and projections, devised from dozens of interviews both conducted by Dickie himself and obtained from mining theatrical archives. Beau has undertaken an extraordinary examination of detail in learning these interviews verbatim, proven as he perfectly lip-syncs every breath, every pause, and every stutter or stammer that occurs naturally in each interviewee’s speech. Imagine learning every subtle shift of a singer’s intonation across an entire album and that’s only a slither of what Beau has accomplished, for as he embodies the eight or more voices we hear, each characterisation is noticeably distinct and seems like a different person appears before us.

It’s more than simply lip-syncing – it’s a unique branch of theatrical art that mines comedy and detail in a way I certainly hadn’t seen let alone considered before. Beau is clearly an extremely passionate and detailed storyteller who is fascinated by history, and the transformation of that history into a modern setting.

For even the least Shakespearean-inclined person, Beau’s amalgamation of perspective and memory will still be captivating. It’s not a show about Hamlet, but about humanity. In asking why we return to see great actors give “their Hamlet” across decades and centuries, Beau taps into our sense of self, asking us to reflect on what we presume is iconic without usually questioning it.

This self-described “human Hamlet mixtape” is a journey into the past seen through a window of the future. It’s a mammoth undertaking for Beau and his team, and overall a joyful celebration of humanity’s obsession with repetition and heritage.

Re-Member Me was performed 17 – 21 October at the Arts Centre Melbourne as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. See here for more information.