Tag: Carlos E. Barcenas

Victorian Opera Presents THE SLEEPING BEAUTY

A classic reawakens

By Rachel Holkner

The Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault is one of the classic fairy tales, and one of my least favourites with its thin plot and troublesome resolution. I was not familiar at all with Respighi‘s opera before seeing this production, but I enjoyed it immensely. The story is fast-moving and compelling, and the music delightful. It was originally written in 1922 for an Italian puppetry company and it has been brought into the twenty-first century quite cleverly by Victorian Opera‘s artistic director Richard Mills and director Nancy Black.

The Sleeping Beauty.jpg

A cast of singers dressed in contemporary attire recount the story as it is acted out by talented puppeteers manipulating some remarkable puppets designed and built by Joe Blanck. They moved about an uncluttered stage with a gothic atmosphere, gorgeously lit by Philip Lethlean throughout.

Solely responsible for the movement and action, the puppeteers threw themselves, and occasionally each other, around the stage. In particular the humour and physicality of the Prince (performed by Vincent Crowley, sung by Carlos E. Bárcenas), with his Dirty-Dancing-era Patrick Swayze bearing, was spectacular. In gradually losing his puppetry aspects until nothing more than a pocket square remained, this became one of the strongest moments of the show as The Prince shed the trappings of privileged life to succeed in his arduous journey of discovery.

A large part of the production effort went into the lavish and eye-catching puppets. Although the inspiration for their design is said to have come from Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen, there are clear layers of influence from other Golden-Age fairytale illustrators such as Arthur Rackham and Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. There is some disjoint as a consequence, with the Blue Fairy being by far the weakest design in both shape and movement, yet one of the most prominent on stage. The smaller puppets such as the cat and spindle were far better developed, their movements lending Disney-esque moments of humour to the performance.

In bringing the story into the present – it is modern times apparently when the Princess is awoken –  there was the opportunity for the creative team to bring in some pop-culture references. This had a two-fold effect for me. Firstly I was annoyed that in trying to escape some of the less pleasant aspects today’s world they suddenly appeared on stage before me, and yet it gave a telling opportunity to reflect on that aforementioned “troublesome resolution”. The expectations for and treatment of young women today are at complete odds with the 1620s culture of the source tale. You could not conclude a story nowadays with a happy-ever-after via an non-consensual kiss. (Or more, should you choose to read further back than Perrault). Without giving anything away, on reflection, the recasting of Mister Dollar was very clever indeed.

The vocal performances of the entire cast were simply outstanding. Of especial note were the work of Elizabeth Barrow as the Blue Fairy and Raphael Wong as the King. One small wardrobe choice which did constantly irritate however was The King’s relaxed interpretation of the costumer’s memo as ‘casual wear’ instead of the neat casual the rest of the cast wore. I would hardly expect a King to ever be dressed in cargo pants and a hoodie.

The live score by Orchestra Victoria, conducted by Phoebe Briggs, was the finishing touch on this highly enjoyable evening. It would be a wonderful introduction to the world of opera, particularly for families.

Dates: 11-18 March 2017

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, Playhouse

Tickets: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2017/opera/the-sleeping-beauty

Image by Charlie Kinross

Victorian Opera’s LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR

Blood, tears and glorious music

By Bradley Storer

Lucia di Lammermoor, Donizetti’s classic bel canto tragedy made famous by our Dame Joan Sutherland, is brought to the stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre by Victorian Opera, this star-vehicle appropriately lead by international star Jessica Pratt in the title role of Lucia.

Victorian Opera 2016 - Lucia di Lammermoor © Jeff Busby.jpg

Despite Henry Bardon’s wonderfully atmospheric and decrepit set (whose variations remain a highlight throughout the evening), the opening scene was very statically and somewhat muddily directed. The male chorus lacked strong direction or intention, but held together under the performances of José Carbó as Enrico Ashton and Jud Arthur as Raimondo. Lucia’s entrance in the next scene, amongst a well-timed eerie burst of onstage fog, was more effectively staged, drawing gasps from the audience.

Pratt is clearly comfortable and confident in the role of Lucia, capably navigating the dramatic arc of Lucia’s journey from innocent love-struck girl to her doomed fate, with a sweet and agile soprano that even in the harsh acoustics of Her Majesty’s could be heard in every corner of the theatre. Her acting choices can be a little odd at times – Pratt beams intermittently through her first aria, the ghostly and ill-omened ‘Regnava Nel Silenzio’, which is a little at ends with the dramatic situation (but feels more appropriate in the following cabaletta ‘Quando Rapito’). At times she can feel a little too controlled, never relaxing fully into the role until the famous and vocally-Olympian mad scene, ‘Il Dolce Suono’, where her soft but intense singing touches the heart even as her coloratura thrills.

Carlos E. Bárcenas as her lover Edgardo has a magnificent tenor voice, at points taking notes higher than even the score indicates to astounding effect. Dramatically though he seems lost, never entirely confident in the role and lacking connection and chemistry with Pratt, which means the last scene depicting Edgardo’s suicide tends to drag.

Carbó manages to find every colouring in the desperate Enrico, abusive to his sister one moment then conciliatory and pleading the next, and his scenes with Pratt are quite possibly the dramatic highlight of the show. Arthur as the priest Raimondo is an authoritative presence, and he received massive applause on opening night. Richard Mills draws out a wonderful performance from the Victorian Opera orchestra, as well as the onstage chorus who are impeccable vocally.

Overall, a worthy re-visiting of the classic opera with a commanding lead star at its centre – a worthwhile night at the opera for any theatre-lover!

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre

Dates: Tuesday April 12th, Thursday 14th, Saturday 16th, Tuesday 19th, Thursday 21st

Time: 7:30pm

Booking: www.ticketek.com.au

Image by Jeff Busby