Tag: Antoinette Halloran

Victorian Opera Presents CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN

Wonderfully weird and charming

By Caitlin McGrane

Victorian Opera’s production of Leoš Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen is a deeply moving portrayal of youth, the passage of time, and the pain of loss. Janáček’s immense skill is clearly evident in the juxtaposition of the soaring score and the conversational libretto. It struck me as a kind of fever dream combination of Animal Farm and the 1996 live-action film of Wind in the Willows featuring most of the Monty Python cast – a wicked combination of socialism, humour and fuzzy critters keeping the sting in the tail of the Vixen.

cunning-little-vixen-2017-victorian-opera-celeste-lazarenko-antoinette-halloran.jpg

I adored the score, and conductor Jack Symonds and his orchestra masterfully kept the production moving even during some slow moments. In fact, as much as I enjoyed the libretto, the opera could have been performed entirely without words and I admit I would have enjoyed it just as much. Despite the serious subject matter, the production is playful and light; director Stuart Maunder has clearly had a great deal of fun during the creative process, and it shows most clearly during the moments when the animals and insects are on stage.

The opera opens with a whole forest of animals and bugs anthropomorphised by the Adult and Children’s Choruses beautifully setting the stage for the feverish weirdness that is coming. The animal costumes (Roger Kirk), particularly the frog (Lisha Ooi), are magnificent, and are honestly one of the highlights of the show. The eponymous young Vixen (Ruby Ditton) plays with her mother (Celeste Lazarenko), and is captured by the Forester (Barry Ryan) as a pet for his children. She grows up, and the adult Vixen (Lazarenko) transforms into a Marxist feminist – taunting the other animals for their backwards views and yearning for her freedom. After a wildly funny hen massacre (RIP the marvellous Cockerel) she flees, meets a charming Fox (Antoinette Halloran) and falls madly in love.

Meanwhile, the Forester basically falls into melancholy drinking with his friends the Schoolmaster (Brenton Spiteri) and the Parson (Jeremy Kleeman), ruminating on the missing Vixen and mercilessly taunting the Schoolmaster for loving a local gypsy woman Tyrenka (Danielle Calder). Frankly, I could have done without the weird human subplots: the Vixen’s story was far more interesting than all the male human characters combined, and I really didn’t need the inclusion of Tyrenka’s wedding to the unfortunately sappy Harašta (valiantly portrayed by Samuel Dundas).

The whole ensemble performed wonderfully and with a sense of mischievous playful fun, particularly Lazarenko and Halloran (who I was secretly hoping would be an anthropomorphised lesbian fox duo). Despite such misgivings, there’s so much to be charmed by in this opera: the choruses perform their animal alter-egos with inventive physicality, and the singing from every cast member is an absolute delight.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the weirdness of Cunning Little Vixen, and it seemed the opera’s playfulness transferred to the audience, as they suppressed giggles both times the cast sang ‘Looks like she has a new muff’. I’d recommend this show for anyone who enjoys inventive costumes and/or subtle proto-feminism: it was a beautifully crafted ride.

Cunning Little Vixen is now playing at the Arts Centre. For tickets or more information visit: http://www.victorianopera.com.au/season-2017/cunning-little-vixen/

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Victorian Opera presents BANQUET OF SECRETS

Melodramatic Moments

By Margaret Wieringa

We all have them – those friends from our past that we see rarely, perhaps catch up with once in a while for a drunken dinner and then go our separate ways. Now, there’s an opera about them! This group of four uni friends meet yearly for a meal at one of their old uni haunts, but this year there is a challenge – each must tell a secret from their past, something no-one else knows.

Victorian Opera 2016 - Banquet of Secrets © Jeff Busby (6)

This show took me across the spectrum of enjoyment – parts of it I severely disliked and others I thoroughly enjoyed. What a challenge! I liked the concept; a group of friends forced to really reach deep and reveal their darkness. But I struggled to really buy it. Whether it was that they went very deep very quickly, or perhaps it was that after the big reveals, there was only a tiny acknowledgement that the other characters had a response before they seemed to be acting like everything was just dandy. It didn’t feel… honest. I know opera is over the top and the concept of huge revelations allowed for some melodrama, but the whole concept begged honest responses, not fleeting moments of truth.

The music was beautifulPaul Grabowski and the Banquet of Secrets band were onstage and their subtle presence was a contrast to the ever-changing images that played on a huge screen above the dinner table. The screen was another thing I both enjoyed and disliked – it worked well for images of the mouth-watering food (don’t miss the magnificently absurd menu in the program) – yet some of the other images that crossed it were twee and annoying.

Despite my criticism of the character responses earlier, I felt that the cast generally worked very well. I felt that the characters were quite insufferable with their self-aware mocking and clichéd comments, but I felt they were quite relatable. For me, while it was a strong ensemble performance, Antoinette Halloran outshone as Mia. Her powerful voice captured the strength and confidence of the character, yet was easily able to bring the audience on the emotional journey of Mia as she relieved the past, and reflected on the consequence of her actions. And the comic turn of Michael Carman as the waiter cannot be ignored – thanks to librettist Steve Vizard for throwing a wink to the great clowning characters of the past.

If you like opera, and you want to see something a bit different, go. But make sure you’ve eaten first – you don’t want your stomach rumbling heard over the music!

Where: Arts Centre Playhouse

When: March 1-5, 7:30pm (1pm matinee on Saturday)

Tickets: $40 – $120, depending on seating.

Bookings: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/opera/banquet-of-secrets or call 1300 822 849

REVIEW: Victorian Opera Presents SWEENEY TODD

Loved it!

By Jessica Cornish

In celebrating their 10th birthday, Victorian Opera have chosen to end their Stephen Sondheim trilogy that began in 2013 with the famous musical horror Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet St, directed by Stuart Maunder.

Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd (Teddy Tahu Rhodes) is a man seeking revenge on Judge Turpin (Philip Rhodes) for the wrongful imprisonment that separated him from his beautiful wife and child, Johanna (Amelia Berry). Escaping colony convict life, Todd returns an obsessed and disillusioned man, and in a cruel and unforgiving society crumbling into filth and poverty, loses his humanity and becomes a serial killer alongside his infatuated accomplice, Mrs Lovett (Antoinette Halloran). They promptly make a business of slitting the throats of barbershop customers and baking them in to pies. Meanwhile, Todd’s estranged daughter is locked away by her adopted guardian the Judge, and a lovesick boy Anthony Hope (Blake Bowden) tries to free Johanna from the lecherous man planning to marry his ward.

Victorian Opera debutant but Melbourne music-theatre favourite Teddy Rhodes has a beautiful rich voice, and his strong brooding frame demanded attention at all times; however, for the first act he seemed a little wooden and detached (even for Todd) when delivering his few lines. Halloran was a triumphant highlight of the show: her singing was always clear, well-executed and perfectly acted, providing black humour throughout the night. Her Mrs Lovett was all at once funny, revolting, and greedy yet still managed to gain the sympathy of the audience. Another standout performance was soprano Berry as Johanna, who effortlessly and accurately glided through her notoriously difficult songs and had amazing vocal clarity and control. Finally, Kanen Breen as Beadle Bamford definitely needs a mention for his hilarious performance as the snarky Judge’s companion, with a killer falsetto that reared itself spectacularly in the second act.

The ensemble are highly participatory throughout the performance, reminiscent of a Greek chorus narrating and commentating on the action unfolding. In this production, the ensemble’s well-executed diction was truly impressive because of the rapid-fire of lyrics and intense musical and narrative demands, whereupon for the most part every word was heard even amongst the complex rounds of verses. The famous Sondheim score is lyrically rich, metrically unstable, dissonant and riddled with constant tension. Under Phoebe Brigg‘s astute musical direction, even songs seemingly beautiful and sweet were laced with vengeance and murder, always leaving the audience deliciously uncomfortable and on edge.

The clarity of the audio designed by Jim Atkins was excellent: however the balance between the orchestra and the vocals was often slightly off, leaving the occasional vocal lines difficult to hear, while the infamous eerie factory whistle was literally painful to listen to and, with patrons covering their ears, really needs to be turned down. Philip Lethlean‘s atmospheric lighting was harsh, using cool washes, up-lighting, and at times, one dimensional angles to give a real horror feel, and adding to the unease of Fleet St. The sets by Rodger Kirk were simple yet adequate, and were easily and smoothly manipulated on a scene-to-scene basis (with just the one bed that seemed to be stuck on stage for a little extra time than required).

Sweeney Todd is a thrilling and enthralling musical, and with a difficult score for the regular music-theatre or operatic performer, it is not often as vocally perfected as it is here by the Victorian Opera. The opening night performance was an absolute pleasure to see and hear, and as the ‘Demon Barber’ isn’t a steady theatre standard, I warmly suggest everyone go see this musical operetta. (Just make sure that if you are purchasing or picking up ticketson the day to arrive at least half an hour in advance due to very long lines, and even more importantly make sure you are in the correct venue! Many people, including myself were ushered into the wrong theatres within the Arts Centre, so I almost saw West Side Story, another Sondheim classic, last night!)

Victorian Opera’s Sweeney Todd is playing at the Playhouse in The Arts Centre until July 25, 2015. Tickets from $50, bookings via http://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/opera/sweeney-todd

Image by Jeff Busby

REVIEW: Melbourne Opera Presents MADAME BUTTERFLY

The Butterfly reborn

By Margaret Wieringa

It’s one of the greatest tragedies in opera – Madame Butterfly, a young Japanese woman who falls in love with and marries an America serviceman only to be abandoned and, ultimately, takes her own life.

This production by Melbourne Opera is a restaging of director Caroline Stacey‘s production that was nominated for seven Green Room Awards a decade ago. Of the two casts being used for this performance, I had the pleasure of seeing Antoinette Halloran as Madame Butterfly.

Madame Butterfly

The turmoil of the title role poured out lusciously not only in her singing, but through every part of her presence. While she was the emotional centre of the performance, her grief was reflected in other characters, most notably  her maid Suzuki (played with beautiful large physical gestures by Caroline Vercoe) and Sharpless, the US consul (in a contrastingly still but equally grief-stricken performance by Roger Howell),

As I came through the foyer, I was surprised at the variety of people in the audience. There were young and old, some families; some seemed very familiar to the theatre experience and others, like one gentleman I overheard “could not believe they would ever go to the opera!” To get such a wide variety of audience members to embrace the performance is a large challenge. Luckily, a slight hitch with part of the set could not have been better timed, as it was followed shortly by a line from Pinkerton (Jason Wasley) wondering if the Japanese style of house would fall apart. The audience laughed together, brought into a shared joke and brought into the house.

The Athenaeum is a venue built for such an intimate performance, as the sounds of the orchestra seem to fill the entire auditorium. Occasionally, the music overpowered the singing, however with such magnificent sounds, it was hard to be disappointed. The simple use of the large, white paper doors as the main set allowed the mood of each scene to be set using delicate colour washes and other lighting effects, and contrasted beautifully with the bright colours of the costumes and umbrellas of the female chorus as they celebrated the wedding day.

By the end of the performance, I felt emotionally wrung out and was happy to leave Madame Butterfly’s house, though I was glad I’d dropped by. And especially glad that I’d brought my tissues.

Athenaeum Theatre

188 Collins St, Melbourne

Friday March 21, 7:30pm; Saturday March 22, 2pm/7:30pm, Monday March 24, 6:30pm

Book on 9650 1500 or through Ticketek on 13 28 49

Tickets from $25-$98

Alexander Theatre – Monash University

Wellington Road, Clayton

Saturday May 3, 8pm

Book on 9905 1111 or artsonline.monash.edu.au

Tickets from $30-$75

REVIEW: Melbourne Opera Presents LA TRAVIATA

The Lady of the Camellias blooms eternal

By Christine Moffat

La Traviata by Verdi is one of the most often performed and best beloved operas in the world.  It tells the tragic tale of courtesan Violetta Valery.  She falls for young and earnest Alfredo, but is convinced by his father Giorgio to give up her happiness for the good of his family.  When Giorgio realises he has wronged a good woman, and brings Alfredo back to Violetta, it is of course too late, and she dies of tuberculosis in her lover’s arms in the famous finale.

Antoinette Halloran as Violetta in La Traviata

This production marks the 10th anniversary of Melbourne Opera, and La Traviata was also the first opera staged by the company.  It is a great celebration of the achievements of Melbourne Opera, a company that is dedicated to providing accessible opera in Melbourne.  This production is particularly accessible for a few reasons; it’s performed in English, the ticket prices start low, and the relatively modern costuming all add up to a production that is relatable and engaging for an audience new to opera and for those eager to see their favourite works revisited .

Soprano Antoinette Halloran is particularly moving as the doomed Violetta.  Her performance was believable and touching, and her voice is superb.  Another stand-out performance came from Manfred Pohlenz in the memorable role of Giorgio, Alfredo’s interfering father.  Vocally the entire cast was strong, and the energetic Melbourne Opera chorus were a highlight.  The costuming by Andrew Bellchambers and Linda Britten was especially good, ranging from luscious ball gowns to simple country dress and suggesting each character’s place in the world and their individual lifestyle instantly.

The evening lasted three hours with two intervals, but felt much shorter – a testament to how entertaining the performance was.  If you are an opera buff, it is a fresh, lively production of an old favourite.  If you have never seen an opera, this production would be a brilliant introduction to the genre.

Performances:

Athenaeum Theatre, 188 Collins St, Melbourne

September 15 – 3.00pm, September 18 – 7.30pm, September 20 – 7.30pm

Alexander Theatre, Monash University

October 11 – 8.00pm

Tickets: $25 – $98

Bookings: www.ticketek.com.au and www.Monash.edu.au/mapa/