Tag: Orchestra Victoria

Review: Salome

A disturbing opera, masterfully presented

By Narelle Wood

Victorian Opera opens its 2020 season with a performance of Richard Strauss’s unsettling Opera Salomé, based on Oscar Wilde’s play by the same name.

The Opera opens with Narraboth (James Egglestone), the captain of the guards guarding the prophet Jochanaan (Daniel Sumegi), voicing is admiration and infatuation for Salomé (Vida Mikneviciute). Salomé soon enters, having left the banquet to escape her step-father Herod (Ian Storey), who is also infatuated by Salomé. The plot quickly thickens as Salomé demands to speak to Jochanaan. Upon meeting Jochanaan Salomé becomes intoxicated by his looks, but Jochanaan rebukes her advances, denouncing Salomé, her family, and their wickedness. Meanwhile, distraught at the sight of Salomé’s admiration for another, Narraboth takes his own life. And just when you think that this may be the climatic end to the story, Herod and Herodias (Liane Keegan) enter, and the plot takes yet another dark turn.

Conducted by Richard Mills, Orchestra Victoria bring a sense of urgency to the score that seems to foreshadow the impending tragedy, even when the characters are declaring their love for another. Director Cameron Menzies has capitalised on the uncomfortable themes of Strauss’s opera, bringing to the stage characters who are complex, unlikeable and disturbing, especially in their interactions with each other. There is no mistaking Herod’s leering, and almost predatory pursuit of Salomé’s affections, but he is also tormented and seems to have some resemblance of a moral compass. Herodias, while gleeful at the prospect of her husband’s potential demise, is also at times seemingly concerned for him. The setting, designed by Christina Smith, superbly mirrors some of the architectural features of the Palais theatre, and is almost dishevelled in appearance, but is still reminiscent of a ‘great palace’. The costuming by Anna Cordingley is stunning, but again there is something that is just ‘off’ enough, deliberately so, for it to look constricted, unsettled or out of place.

Everybody’s performances are exceptional, including the impressive ensemble. There is potential with this storyline for the characters to become more caricatures. And while there were certain character traits that each performer emphasised, it didn’t ever cross the line into something more farcical. And, again, this seemed to contribute to the troubling nature of the performance. Mikneviciute, for instance, moves from emotion to emotion, portraying Salomé as someone confident in who they are and what they want, despite how irrational or comedic her behaviour might appear to the audience.

While the opera is short – one act of 90 minutes – the impression it leaves is lasting. Victorian Opera’s interpretation of Salomé is tragic and uncomfortable, but captivatingly so.

Salomé is on at the Palais Theatre until February 27th. Tickets at http://www.victorianopera.com.au/season/salome

Photography by Craig Fuller

 

 

Review: The Barber Of Seville

Just as enjoyable two centuries on

By Owen James

For two performances only this December, Victorian Opera have brought one of the most famous operas to life at the Melbourne Recital Centre – The Barber Of Seville. Now over 200 years old, Rossini’s comedy begins when affluent Count Almaviva disguises himself as poor student Lindoro to charm Rosina, ward of villainous Doctor Bartolo. The Barber Of Seville himself, Figaro, helps Almaviva to woo and rescue Rosina in exchange for fiscal reward.

Direction from Elizabeth Hill-Cooper ensures the limited stage space (what remains in front of the orchestra) is used effectively, with action constant but never cluttered. This is billed as a “semi-staged concert”, so movement remains simple for the most part, allowing us to become fully immersed in Rossini’s timeless music. English surtitles are projected above the stage, in time with the often rapid-fire original Italian lyrics.

Experiencing this score played to perfection by a full orchestra is an incomparable experience. The unmistakable overture is a journey of its own (arguably the finest overture ever composed), followed by soaring arias and grand motifs that heighten the simple comedic, romantic themes to an epic scale. Musical director Richard Mills has allowed Rossini’s music to both breathe and maintain pace. No note is ever out of place thanks to his keen conducting and Orchestra Victoria, who obviously adore playing through this classic (and are balanced naturally thanks to the beautiful acoustics of the Recital Centre – no vocal mics are needed and not a note is lost!). Thunder sheets are used to great dramatic effect by the percussion section during a chaotic second act downpour.

José Carbó as the suave titular barber Figaro is a delight at every turn. His voice carries every delicate inflection and grandiose flourish with ease, eliciting many a “bravo!” from captivated audience members. Brenton Spiteri delivers an impressive vocal performance as Count Almaviva, effortlessly mining endless texture and beauty from every note of Rossini’s often difficult score. The pair are almost always together throughout their scheming, a witty, sharp duo that keep us enthralled and giggling with bursts of crafty commedia dell’arte as each romantic attempt is foiled.

Warwick Fyfe is the menacing villain Doctor Bartolo, sternly commanding the stage with an austere but ruffled presence. Whether barking reprimands or being undermined by gleeful Almaviva, Fyfe expertly plays the straight man at every turn (even when adorned with a beard of real shaving cream). Rosina’s cheeky and brave spirit is captured by Chiara Amarù, proving that there is a lot more to this ward than a mere damsel in distress. Amarù’s vocals are mesmerising throughout, her classical soprano tones drifting seamlessly across difficult arias. Paolo Pecchioli, man of a million faces, completes the key pieces of this comic puzzle as greedy Don Basilio, an audience favourite with every rubberfaced appearance.

Congratulations to Victorian Opera for a superb rendition of this musical and vocal rollercoaster, a tremendous feat accomplished with superb casting that undeniably deserves a much longer season!

https://www.victorianopera.com.au/season/the-barber-of-seville

Photography by Nick Hanson

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

REVIEW: Victorian Opera Presents REMEMBRANCE

How do you choose to remember?

By Deborah Langley

It’s a cold night in Melbourne and I must admit I’m feeling quite nostalgic. It’s been a hard week for me, the week I said goodbye to my grandmother, of funerals and sadness, of tears and regret. So it was with a heavy heart that I went along to the Victorian Opera’s Remembrance at the Arts Centre’s Hamer Hall.

Victorian Opera 2015 - Remembrance © Charlie Kinross

On this the centenary year of the ANZAC landing in Gallipoli, I was ready to remember: to shed a tear for the wasted youth and reminisce of times gone by, of what could have been and what we have lost.

With stories, songs and images we were given an historical and musical account of Australia’s involvement in World War 1. From the time of enlistment in 1914, with diggers leaving us and training in Egypt, through to landing in Gallipoli, the Somme and the Western Front and finally the homecoming of some of our luckier diggers. Remembrance gives a respectful reimagining, complete with authentic wartime ditties, but unfortunately this ultimately did not feel a truly heartfelt tribute.

Written and directed by award-winning Australian author Rodney Hall, and composed and conducted by acclaimed artistic director Richard Mills, Remembrance stars one of Australia’s best-known operatic tenors David Hobson, along with eight of Victorian Opera’s talented young artists.

Elizabeth Lewis is a standout in the ensemble, embodying characters both vocally and physically, while Michael Petruccelli and Nathan Lay give equally memorable performances as diggers throughout the war as the cast create a series of moving musical portraits against the backdrop of archival footage.

Accompanied by an impressive chamber orchestra, Orchestra Victoria, and a large rousing community choir, Remembrance does offer a glimpse into what life might have been like during World War 1: something we should all continue to remember.

Victorian Opera’s Remembrance was performed at Hamer Hall on August 13 2015, before touring:

Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo
15 August 2015, 7:00pm

The Cube, Wodonga
31 August 2015, 10:30am & 7:30pm

West Gippsland Arts Centre, Warragul
3 September 2015, 8:00pm

Eastbank Centre, Shepparton
12 September 2015, 7:30pm

http://www.victorianopera.com.au/what-s-on/remembrance/#TabDatesTickets

REVIEW: Victorian Opera Presents THE BIG SING

With voices raised

By Narelle Wood

For one night only Victorian Opera, community choirs from around regional and metropolitan Victoria, VOYCE (Victorian Opera Youth Chorus Ensemble), students from the Master of Music Opera Performance program and Orchestra Victoria came together for the very aptly named The Big Sing.

In the magnificent surrounds of Hamer Hall we were treated to performances of Verdi, Mozart, Bizet, as well as Gilbert and Sullivan and Maestro Mills’ own arrangements of Australian folk songs “Click go the Shears” and “Waltzing Matilda”. The program provided a great variety of musical moods, from the joyful drinking song “Brindisi” from La Traviata to Purcell’s haunting “When I am Laid in Earth” from Dido and Aeneas.

The Big Sing

It was, however, the ethereal performance of “With Drooping Wings” also from Dido and Aeneas and sung by VOYCE that was a highlight, demonstrating the depth of talent that Victorian Opera has to work with.

Michael Petruccelli and Matthew Tng were very entertaining (they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves) and I could have listened to Kate Amos and Cristina Russo sing all night. But for anyone unsure whether opera is for them, nights such as these are a perfect introduction. Selection of music aside, Maestro Mills provides a history and context to the pieces in a passionate, sometimes brutally honest, but always entertaining style.

While in an opera performance the opera singers will always be the stars, listening to, and on this very fortunate occasion watching, Orchestra Victoria is an incredible experience. This time we were treated to some introductions to the various instruments, and personalities, of the orchestra, which added a relaxed and very personable feel to the evening.

I did find the request to join in the singing of “Waltzing Matilda” a little confronting and was a little too self-conscious to join voices with likes of Elizabeth Lewis and Nathan Lay. Hopefully The Big Sing will be back next year as I certainly thought it was a big hit, and who knows – maybe next year I’ll be game enough to sing along.

Victorian Opera’s The Big Sing took place at Hamer Hall on 13th Oct 2014.